NM government bungling worsens our megadrought - Albuquerque Journal

NM government bungling worsens our megadrought

The megadrought in the Southwest is drying up New Mexico, including the Rio Grande and Albuquerque. To protect New Mexico’s water supply, I’m part of a group of citizens who have filed a lawsuit to enforce the federal laws that require maximum conservation of water, known as “beneficial use.” The case is titled Clark v. Haaland, federal district court No. 1:21-cv-01091-KG-SCY.

Besides the drought, politicians and judges have put New Mexico’s water supply in jeopardy.

In 2010, Gov. Bill Richardson made a compact with the Navajo tribe, giving it 635,000 acre-feet of New Mexico water every year from the San Juan River. To put that in perspective, that is six times the amount used by Albuquerque and Bernalillo County combined. It is also many times the amount of water the Navajos could put to beneficial use on their irrigation projects. If Richardson’s agreement is upheld, the tribe could legally sell huge amounts of water to California, Arizona and Nevada.

Meanwhile, the drought and Richardson’s deal are reducing the municipal water supply that Albuquerque gets from the San Juan River via the San Juan-Chama project.

When Richardson’s water deal was challenged in state court, Judge James J. Wechsler ruled in favor of the Richardson/Navajo compact on all issues – without a trial.

The case next went to the N.M. Court of Appeals, where retired Judge Bruce Black wrote an opinion saying federal law preempts New Mexico’s water laws and regulation. Black also ruled federal and state laws do not require beneficial use and water conservation. In Black’s opinion, judges can ignore climate change and water shortages for other users.

State Engineer John D’Antonio protested that the Court of Appeals decision “robs New Mexico of its authority to control the appropriation and use of the waters of the State.” The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority also opposed the decision because it deprives New Mexico of ownership of the water in the state’s rivers.

The New Mexico Supreme Court first agreed to review the lower court decisions, but then punted. The court quashed the appeal – without explaining why.

Meanwhile, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her new state engineer are supporting the Richardson/Navajo deal – without explaining why.

That is why we have taken the case to the federal court. We can’t control the weather that has given us a megadrought, but public officials have acted irresponsibly, giving a hugely disproportionate amount of the state’s vanishing water supply to the Navajo Nation. Over half a dozen state and federal laws have been violated by the Richardson/Navajo agreement, “beneficial use” being the gold standard.

We plaintiffs just want to enforce the laws for water conservation and beneficial use throughout New Mexico. In our state, water is too precious to waste.

Alarmed? Outraged? So are we. That’s why we’re asking the federal courts to straighten out this mess.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » NM government bungling worsens our megadrought


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