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Aamodt Settlement a real cause for concern

SANTA FE, N.M. — Growing up in the Pojoaque Valley, my ancestors and pueblos used the acequias for centuries, sharing the water for all our survival. The residents are now being asked to agree to the complex Aamodt Settlement, which spanned 48 years of litigation and backroom settlement negotiations.

Now, the residents are only given 60 days from the date of receiving their notices to make their decision to agree with the settlement. This is causing tremendous frustration and apprehension for the people of the valley. One problem is that the well owners were not part of the negotiations. The “settling parties” worked together to convince the court this was a good deal for everyone in the basin. The settling parties are the State Engineers Office, Santa Fe County, the City of Santa Fe, the Department of Interior, and the four pueblos of San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque and Tesuque.

State Engineer Scott Verhines’ “My View: Aamodt deal deadline on Monday” printed April 6 in the Santa Fe New Mexican, fails to mention important facts in the agreement. More than 500 objections were filed by non-pueblo well owners. Mr. Verhines states that the agreement brings 2,500 acre-feet of wet water to a chronically water short basin (NPT Basin).

Beverly Duran-Cash .

Beverly Duran-Cash.

What is not mentioned is that there hasn’t been a hydrology report released giving evidence to his claim that the basin is chronically short of water. Furthermore, the 2,500 acre-feet of imported water was purchased by the federal government for the four pueblos in addition to the 3,660 acre-feet that has been adjudicated for the four pueblos.

In addition, the federal government, the state of New Mexico and Santa Fe County are on the hook for paying for construction of a water utility for delivery of this water. In the Settlement Agreement Section 7.3, this 2,500 acre-feet of water is not considered water diverted in the NPT Basin, therefore nothing requires the pueblos to keep the 2,500 acre-feet of wet water inside the “chronically water short basin.” It’s likely this water will be leased by the pueblos outside the basin.

Non-pueblo residents can draw a maximum of 1,500 acre-feet from the water system. The non-pueblo citizens make up about 90 percent of the population.

Mr. Verhines states water rights claimants were served in the Pojoaque Valley by first-class mail and publication in the newspaper. What’s not mentioned is that about 30 percent of the first-class envelopes were returned because of incorrect addresses. As for publication in the newspaper, we all know you find this information in the legal sections that we all scour every day for information. In the Settlement Agreement, a person who does not respond to the court (even without notice) is a settling party and will be entered as such. This means that these people would give up their right to use their well when the water system becomes available.

The Settlement Agreement also creates a different rule for forfeiture of failure to use water. Under state statute, an individual is noticed after four consecutive years of non-use and given a year to put their water to beneficial use before a priority call can be executed. In the agreement, an individual isn’t given any notice before a priority call can be executed, thus violating the equality demanded by the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.

Lastly, the board that is going to manage the Regional Water System is set to be composed of five members, one from each pueblo and one from Santa Fe County. This board will oversee the use of Santa Fe County tax dollars and, more than likely, New Mexico tax dollars. The board is not subject to the state Procurement Code or the Audit Act; they make up their own procurement and auditing procedures.

No wonder the apprehension!

Beverly Duran-Cash is a spokesperson for the Concerned Taxpayers of El Rancho, a group that can be found on Facebook.