ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled Texas can proceed to the next step in its lawsuit against New Mexico over the use of Rio Grande water. The brief order suggests the court thinks it may have jurisdiction over the interstate water dispute, but the order invites New Mexico to shortcut a potentially lengthy proceeding by filing a motion to dismiss the action.
Texas has charged that groundwater pumping in New Mexico is draining water from the Rio Grande, depriving Texas water users of their share of the river. New Mexico counters that it is in full compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, the interstate water deal that divides the river’s waters, and that the Supreme Court has no business even taking up the case.
Today’s ruling is a step toward the Supreme Court giving Texas its day in court, but it leaves the door open for New Mexico to cut that courtroom time short. It’s a victory for Texas, though a small one. “Texas has the upper hand now,” said Steve Hernandez, attorney for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico.
For farmers, the risk in the case is that an eventual ruling could force restrictions on groundwater pumping to support growing crops like pecans, said Greg Daviet, who owns an orchard in Mesilla. A complete ban on groundwater pumping would be ruinous for growing crops like pecans that need a secure supply, Daviet said. A more modest restriction would also make it harder to grow crops like pecans, driving down property values as a result. Daviet expressed the hope that some sort of a negotiated solution might yet be possible that would reduce the risk posed by the litigation.
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, in a statement, expressed disappointment, but said the state still looks forward to having its day in court. “Clearly, I was hoping for a different outcome, however, I am not surprised. I am confident that the Court takes such state to state disputes very seriously and we look forward to being able to tell New Mexico’s side of the story and to have our day in Court,” King said in a statement.
I’ll have more comments later today from the participants, and in tomorrow’s newspaper.