Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Rio Rancho leaders say they’d be interested in a project that aims to bring water to the city from a ranch west of Socorro but they’re not holding their breath.
The investment group Augustin Plains Ranch LLC has applied to the Office of the State Engineer to pump 54,000 acre-feet of water from the ranch near Datil and transport it by pipeline to supply communities along the Rio Grande and Albuquerque metro area. The application filed this week included letters of support from Rio Rancho’s mayor and city manager.
Mayor Gregg Hull said this week that the group contacted him about a month ago asking if the city would be interested. Hull wrote a letter on June 18 expressing support.
If the project is successful, “Rio Rancho would most certainly consider engaging Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC as a customer for this water,” Hull’s letter said.
City Manager Keith Riesberg wrote a similar letter in April, saying the city needed “several thousand acre feet of water” and they would be interested in discussions with Augustin Plains Ranch, again, if the group was successful.
Hull, who was elected in April, said he hadn’t been aware of the group before they contacted him.
But the group was aware of Hull.
His campaign finance reports showed a $500 contribution on March 16 from Ascendant Program Services of Springs, Md., whose website lists the Augustin Plains Ranch water infrastructure project as one of its projects. The website says Augustin Plains Ranch project manager Michel Jichlinski is a principal at Ascendant.
Hull said he hadn’t solicited the contribution.
“It was a mail-in contribution. There was no face-to-face contact. I was not familiar with them at that point,” Hull said.
He pointed out that the project is a long way from reality.
“If you show up at our doorstep with water, we are interested, but there are a lot of logistical details to be worked out,” Hull said.
Augustin Plains Ranch could not be reached for comment.
The group filed a similar application two years ago. Ranch owners hoped to drill wells and pump water from an underground aquifer. Residents of Datil were worried the pumping would draw down water levels and threaten wells in their rural community.
State Engineer Scott Verhines turned down Augustin Plains’ previous application, citing the group’s failure to “include specifics as to the end user of the water.” State officials made it clear though that they do not in general oppose water transfers around the state.
Bruce Frederick, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who represented some of the protesters, told the Journal this week that the latest application was “a public relations piece that suffered from the same basic legal deficiency as the prior applications” in not identifying where or by whom the water would be used.