Judge postpones Texas v. New Mexico water trial - Albuquerque Journal

Judge postpones Texas v. New Mexico water trial

Elephant Butte Dam and reservoir in early June. A federal judge overseeing a U.S. Supreme Court case between Texas and New Mexico over a long-running groundwater dispute has agreed to postpone an October trial so the parties can work out a potential settlement. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A federal judge overseeing a U.S. Supreme Court case between Texas and New Mexico over a long-running groundwater dispute has agreed to postpone an October trial so the parties can work out a potential settlement.

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael J. Melloy announced the decision on Tuesday.

Colorado and New Mexico’s water obligations to downstream users are measured by deliveries to Elephant Butte Reservoir.

In a lawsuit filed in 2014, Texas alleges that groundwater pumping and surface water diversions in southern New Mexico illegally reduce the amount of water available for the Lone Star State.

Attorneys in the case met in late June in St. Louis, Missouri, for mediation talks.

Melloy noted that the parties have agreed on a “settlement in principle.”

But “significant drafting, approval, and legislative and regulatory steps need to be accomplished in order to consummate the settlement.”

Texas objected to the trial delay. The state argued that the groups still need to determine if there “will be any significant obstacles” to finalizing a settlement agreement.

But the judge sided with an agreement by the United States, New Mexico, Colorado and a mediator to postpone the trial.

Attorneys spent more than a month last fall conducting the trial’s first phase.

Stuart Somach, an attorney representing Texas, said the state is entitled to a specific amount of water agreed upon in the Rio Grande Compact signed in 1938.

“If more water is subtracted for use in New Mexico than the Compact intended, then Texas doesn’t receive its apportionment,” Somach said.

But Attorney General Hector Balderas said that farmers and municipalities in New Mexico, not Texas, are the ones being harmed in the latest water war.

“We are at a critical juncture in our history, and unless New Mexico starts to receive its fair share of water, we may see a situation where New Mexico farmers don’t have enough to tend their own fields,” Balderas said.

The U.S. Justice Department maintains that New Mexico’s groundwater pumping is a “huge problem” for distributing Rio Grande supplies.

After Tuesday’s announcement, Balderas said the state is now “on the cusp of an exciting historic settlement agreement that will protect New Mexico water for generations to come.”

Melloy’s order sets a July 26 status conference to discuss progress on a final settlement and set a new trial date if necessary.

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