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Acequia community opposes mining company’s drilling plan

Paula Garcia

SANTA FE – Members of New Mexico’s acequia community expressed concern to state legislators Friday about an Australian mining company’s plan to conduct mineral exploration in the Pecos River watershed.

In a resolution opposing proposed exploratory drilling for potential mining by Comexico LLC, the New Mexico Acequia Association pointed out that in 1991, runoff from a previous mine in the Santa Fe National Forest sent toxic mercury into the Pecos River, killing nearly 10,000 trout.

“Many farmers and ranchers who rely on acequias for irrigation water would suffer hardship from contamination if toxic metals were washed into the Pecos River from the Comexico mining sites and mine tailings,” said the resolution, which was presented to the Land Grant Legislative Interim Committee by Paula Garcia, executive director of NMAA.

Land Grant Committee Chairman Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, sympathized with the acequia community, but pointed out that there is little the state can do but “put pressure” on the federal government. The drilling would take place on U.S. Forest Service land.

In late September, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to the head of the Forest Service pointing out cleanup from previous mining operations has already cost $36 million, including about $7 million in state funds.

Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, observed that proposed drilling sites are not far from the proposed Pecos Canyon State Park, which the 2019 Legislature expressed support for in a memorial.

The NMAA, which represents 659 acequias in 23 counties, also asked for a legislative remedy that would allow regional acequia associations to gain access to state funding to cover litigation after a final decree has been entered for water rights cases.

The request for a fix has been prompted by the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act, which settled water rights claims among non-Indians and San Ildefonso, Nambé, Pojoaque and Tesuque pueblos and ordered the development of a regional water system in northern Santa Fe County’s Pojoaque River Basin.

Currently, acequias affected by Aamodt and other water rights settlements must foot legal bills on their own post-settlement under a ruling by the Office of the State Engineer.

Another legislative tweak that NMAA is asking for during the upcoming Legislative session is to allow acequias to tap a new infrastructure fund, which will receive $2.5 million annually, for engineering designs that will be used to apply for construction funding. Currently, design expenses are not eligible for reimbursement from the newly created Acequia and Community Ditch Fund.