Avoiding Priority Calls for the Right and Wrong Reasons

New post on La Jicarita

Avoiding Priority Calls for the Right and Wrong Reasons

by lajicarita


As April slides into May in the upper Sangre de Cristo watershed I’m thankful for whatever green I get: the pasture grass first, emerging almost overnight into clumps of mixed brome, rye, timothy, and various unidentified shoots. The apricot trees in the orchard are just breaking into bloom, with an intrinsic knowledge that any flower display before the end of April is a fool’s game (and they were indeed zapped last Thursday night). The ornamental forsythia at the front door flaunts this rule but unlike the apricot doesn’t have to prove its worth in fruit; its justification is its persistent yellow beauty. The unrelenting wind makes Eliot’s declaration of April being the cruelest month manifest by threatening to rip the hoop house plastic from its tenuous hold on its PVC frame.

The irrigation water in my first-in-line village starts flowing around the same time, depending on the commissioners’ adherence to formal tradition—the water isn’t released until the acequia is cleaned—or informal tradition—whoever has a direct line to the commissioners gets the water whenever they don’t have it.

Although my village lies only a few miles away from Picuris Pueblo, whose priority date is “time immemorial,” there is no question that we are literally ”first in use” in my valley, as the New Mexico water code defines priority administration of water rights. With a priority date in 1700s this village on the Rio de las Trampas gets the water first as it flows from the high Pecos peaks directly through the pastures and gardens of the village parciantes. We are allotted a certain amount for irrigation, although no meters, only gauges measure the circos that traditionally correspond to shovel widths of water flowing through our three presas, or diversion dams, on the river.

Yet the concept of “priority date” implies that the water we use we own, which is contrary to the way the acequia communities throughout northern New Mexico have always managed their water. José Rivera, in his book Acequia Culture, Water, Land, & Community in the Southwest, quotes from an affidavit submitted by acequia commissioners in the early years of the Taos Valley adjudication to determine priority dates and ownership of water:

“the aforesaid acequias by and through their fully elected commissioners agree that they will continue to follow and be bound by their customary divisions and allocations of water and agree that they will not make calls or demands for water between and among themselves based upon priority dates.”

In accordance with the traditional practice of repartimiento, or water sharing, the acequias did not want to establish a practice whereby a priority call could shut off water to “junior” water rights holders in times of drought.

The Office of the State Engineer (OSE), the agency that administers water rights in New Mexico, has also been reluctant to issue priority calls to junior users but not with such altruistic motives: junior water rights largely belong to urban areas developed after the establishment of Pueblo and Hispano acequia communities and a priority call would generate a political nightmare.

But now the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CIB) has issued a priority call on the Pecos River against the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District (PVACD) and we’re going to witness a legal process that won’t be as messy as if city wells were being threatened but will provide plenty of action.

This isn’t the first time the CID issued a priority call. As I wrote about in my article “How Not to Manage for Drought in New Mexico” the state paid Texas the big bucks back in the 1980s to prevent the CID from making that call. In that case, which lingered in court from 1974 to 1988 during the infamous State Engineer Steve Reynolds’ tenure, Texas claimed that New Mexico failed to deliver required water under the terms of the Pecos River Compact. Instead of complying with the condition by enforcing the state’s priority system, which would have required acknowledging Carlsbad Irrigation District’s senior water rights by shutting off Roswell area junior wells to get water to the Texas state line, the New Mexico state legislature bought and retired enough water rights to meet the Texas water demand. It cost $100 million.

The CID has late 1800 senior surface water rights as opposed to the Roswell area farmers in the conservancy district with junior groundwater rights that, as the CID claims, are being pumped while the irrigation ditches go dry. The attorney for the CID seems to think that this time around the OSE, instead of the state legislature, is going to come to the rescue. That’s because of the Active Water Resource Management (AWRM) rules (recently upheld in a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court), which will allow an appointed water master to implement an administrative priority cut-off date. All water rights holders whose priority date is later than the administrative date must stop using the water. This would, of course, cut off water to the PVACD, just as enforcement of the priority system would require, except that AWRM would enforce it more expeditiously and also allow the PVACD to file a replacement plan: the junior water right holder could temporarily use other senior water rights that aren’t being used, assuming it’s hydrologically viable.

When AWRM was first promulgated in 2004 many expressed concern that replacement plans denied the due process of formal water transfer protests and hearings and that it expedited the marketing and leasing of water (acequias and community ditches are expressly exempted from expedited marketing and leasing provisions). According to the OSE, replacement plans “do not adjudicate your water rights but are only an interim determination for administration and can be superseded by the courts.” Replacement plans would be limited to two years, which the OSE claimed would prevent developers from transferring water rights without a full public hearing.

So while the state moves further away from priority administration—although many would say in the wrong direction—the worsening drought continues to count coup on all our efforts at water management and distribution. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) the April streamflows remain dismal. The Rio Grande Basin streamflows range from 57 percent of normal for Rio Lucero near Arroyo Seco, to 11 percent of normal for the Jemez River below Jemez Canyon Dam. At Otowi Bridge, flows are forecast at 30 percent of normal, or 192,000 acre feet (af), and San Marcial is also 11 percent of normal or 53,000 af. March precipitation was 32 percent of normal, drier than 2012. Year to date precipitation is at 60 percent, also lower than last year at this time. While snowpack is below average at 55 percent, a little better than last year, much of the low to mid elevation snowpack has already melted, much earlier than average. Total reservoir storage in the basin is 614,300 af, down from last year’s 974,400 af.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association releases graphs showing precipitation outlooks several times a month. Here’s the April 29 to May 5 forecast.

So far our solutions to this extreme drop in participation and surface water storage are to pump more groundwater and import surface water. Texas continues to seek redress in the Supreme Court over alleged violations of the Rio Grande Compact, claiming that New Mexican groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Reservoir is preventing Texas from getting its required water delivery. All the water settlements thus far negotiated rely on imported water, either San Juan/Chama contract water or transferred rights, usually from agriculture.

What I also see happening, as a member of the Taos County Public Welfare Advisory Committee, which reviews all water transfer applications within or from Taos County, is that as surface waters dry up and irrigation seasons shorten, even small water rights holders are applying to transfer their surface water rights to groundwater so they can continue to irrigate via pumps instead of acequias. It all adds up, folks, and no amount of wheeling and dealing is going to change the fact that we’re in an extreme drought, the planet is warming, and climate change is upon us. I got the water last night to irrigate my field, orchard, and garlic patch, but we’ll see how long it lasts as the summer progresses. You might say my village is a kind of indicator species: when it goes dry up here it’s a sure sign there’s not much hope below.


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Steve Harris at Collected Works Sunday April 28th at 11 AM

April 28, Sunday, 11 am
Books/Talks/Lectures (at Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse)
journeysantafe presents:
Can Our Society Act To Protect Rivers From Continued De-Watering?
The Rio Chama Flow Project with Steve Harris, Executive Director of Rio Grande Restoration Project

Harris writes: “The over-exploitation of water from New Mexico’s Rivers has led to a noticeable loss of bio diversity and other natural and social values  they once provided. Beginning with the passage of Strategic Water  Reserve legislation, an “environmental flow movement” has begun to  take hold in the Roundhouse and State Engineer’s Office.  Can our  society act to protect rivers from continued de-watering…. without   “goring the ox” of traditional uses such as irrigation agriculture?   The Rio Chama Flow Project, organized by Rio Grande Restoration, is  attempting to demonstrate the idea that sound science, coupled with  cooperative governance, can protect our rivers, even in the face of  climate change and development pressure.  Come hear how it proposes to  ‘rewater’ the rivers.”

Harris is the Executive Director of the Rio Grande Restoration project and president of a Taos-based river outfitting business, Far-Flung Adventures, and

executive director of the basin-wide streamflow advocacy group, Rio Grande Restoration’ Past board officer of the Tamarisk Coalition, Consultant on the TCEQ/USACE Forgotten River project.

Steve participates actively in regional and state water planning forums and has served on a number of public water resource programs, including the Taos Regional Water Plan, Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin Coalition and the Middle Rio Grande ESA Collaborative Presently, he directs the Rio Chama Flow Optimization Project in collaboration with agency stakeholders and local communities.

Photograph of Rio Grande River by Steve Stockdale

Tarzan(ds) at it again

Just last month a ruptured oil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with more than a million gallons of dirty tar sands oil and water. Our friends at the League of Conservation Voters are asking the State Department to help prevent future accidents by rejecting the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Please sign their petition today to help reach one million messages by Earth Day. Tell Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline!


Trip Van Noppen
President, Earthjustice

The Wilderness Society

Enough is enough! Join us in saying NO to more tar sands spills. Help us reach one million comments against the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.


The Mayflower oil spill of 2013

More than 500,000 gallons of tar sands oil and water just spilled in Arkansas. Don’t let this dirty oil nightmare ooze across America.

Help us gather 1 million comments to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline! Submit your comment here >>

Imagine coming home to this: Oil oozing down your driveway, pooling in your back yard, and filling up your local waterways. Sounds like a nightmare, right?

This is the reality that families in Mayflower, Arkansas, have had to deal with since more than 500,000 gallons of dirty tar sands oil and water spilled out of a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline this past Friday.

This spill is terrible and our hearts go out to the community in Mayflower affected by this disaster. This shouldn’t have happened. That’s why it’s critical that President Obama and Secretary Kerry reject the construction of a much bigger pipeline, Keystone XL, which could cause even more devastating spills of tar sands crude in waterways and lands across America.

We need you to raise your voice now. Tell the State Department to keep us safe from more tar sands spills by rejecting the dangerous Keystone XL pipeline!

Unfortunately, the spill in Arkansas repeats a story we know too well. In 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline in Michigan broke and spilled more than 800,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River — and it still hasn’t been fully cleaned up. That same year, TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline now, built a pipeline that experienced 12 separate spills in a single year. In 2011, one of Exxon Mobil’s pipelines in Montana ruptured and contaminated the Yellowstone River. And even just last week, a train derailed in Minnesota and spilled 30,000 gallons of tar sands crude.

If these stories make your stomach churn, I know how you feel. It’s absolutely infuriating that we keep allowing Big Oil to put our lands, water, and wildlife at risk, when we have seen over and over how it ends.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a monster — carrying 20 times more oil than the Exxon pipeline that burst in the Yellowstone River two years ago. If we have any hope of stopping it, we need you to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that this dirty pipeline is all risk and no reward. Send a message asking him to reject it here >>

Right now, the State Department is accepting comments on its review of the potential environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. The initial draft of this review was completely off-base, downplaying the risks of spills and the devastating impact that this dirty oil would have in fueling climate change. Luckily, we have the chance to weigh in on this draft and push them to change it to recommend what many scientists have attested to — that this pipeline is too dangerous to build and the tar sands oil needs to stay in the ground.

So we’re joining with groups across the environmental movement to gather one million comments opposing the dirty Keystone XL pipeline by the end of the comment period on April 22. With only 4 days to go, we need you to send a message now.

Thanks to contributions from more than 3,000 LCV members, we hit our goal in our fundraising drive for this campaign and now we’ve got all the resources we need to win this fight.

But we can’t do it without your help. So thanks for taking a moment to make your voice heard today.

Let’s do this,

Vanessa Kritzer
Online Campaigns Manager
League of Conservation Voters

Gila River

A 9th grader in Silver City has initiated a petition addressed to the Interstate Stream Commission asking that the Gila River water not be diverted and piped to Deming (by way of the copper mines near Silver City) in order to facilitate development.

Will you consider signing the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/jim-dunlap-chairman-of-the-interstate-stream-commission-don-t-divert-the-gila-river-through-the-awsa-2?

Please pass on the word.

Aamodt Settlement

New post on La Jicarita

Aamodt Settlement Finally Signed but Not Yet Delivered

by lajicarita


Revisions to the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act dragged on for two years as the parties to the settlement had to go back to the drawing board and make the language in the 2006 act conform to the 2010 federal act that approved it (as well as the Cost Sharing and System Integration Agreement). These agreements were completed earlier this year and when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar came to New Mexico, the settlement was signed on March 14. Meanwhile, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System (RWS), which will deliver the amounts of water stipulated in the settlement to the pueblos (Tesuque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, and Pojoaque) and non-pueblo residents of the Pojoaque Valley, is generating some speculation as to how and if it can be completed by September 15, 2017, the date by which the terms of the settlement must be fulfilled.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), charged with the promulgation of the EIS, has scheduled two additional scoping meetings for Wednesday, April 17, at the Tewa Visitor Center at the Pueblo of San Ildefonso; and Thursday, April 18, at the El Rancho Community Center. Both meetings will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Comments will be accepted until May 3 and can be submitted by email, regular mail, fax, or on the web as well: e-mail to PojoaqueBasinEIS@usbr.gov; mail to Bureau of Reclamation, Albuquerque Area Office (ALB-842), 555 Broadway NE, Suite 100, Albuquerque, NM 87102; fax to (505) 462-3797; or Submit a Web Comment Here! See the Bureau of Reclamation web site for more information.

The settlement stipulates that approximately 4,000 acre feet per year (afy) of water will be diverted from the Rio Grande: up to 2,500 (2,381 afy reflects conveyance loss from the original 2,500 afy) to the pueblos and up to 1,500 afy to Santa Fe County customers, who can voluntarily become members of the delivery system or retain their private wells. The water sources are: San Juan/Chama Project, 1,079 afy; Nambe Reserved Right, 302; a transfer of water rights from Top of the World Farms  (TOW) in northern Taos County, 1,752; and domestic well transfers, 611 (reduced from 750). Of the 1,079 afy San Juan/Chama water, 300 afy was taken from the Taos Pueblo Settlement (Abeyta) in a negotiated deal, and the remaining 800 afy are Cochiti Lake Contract water rights that were set aside to compensate for evaporation. The 611 afy is an estimate of the maximum potential of domestic well transfers into the water delivery system.

The water will be taken from the Rio Grande, most likely at San Ildefonso Pueblo, by either diverting the surface water into a side intake structure or by collecting groundwater that is hydrologically connected to the river through the use of horizontal collector wells or infiltration gallery. This idea of a collector was first put forward back in the late 1990s when the County of Santa Fe proposed that a Ranney Collector be used to divert Top of the World water rights (600 afy) to the Buckman Well Field to offset over pumping and allow for future development.


Aquifer Storage and Recovery System

Aquifer Storage and Recovery System

The county’s application to transfer the TOW water rights was protested by nineteen groups and individuals concerned that the transfer could open the door to other municipalities and development interests hoping to acquire water rights in northern New Mexico and transfer them to other locations south of the Otowi Gauge. There was also concern that the infiltration gallery would affect ground water supplies in a wide radius of the pumping. The 1999 transfer was never completed, and eventually, after the County purchased an additional 1,100 afy of TOW water rights, the water was designated for the Aamodt settlement. Now that the settlement has been signed, the County and the Department of the Interior, which bought the portion of the Top of the World water rights intended for the pueblos, will apply to the Office of the State Engineer to transfer them, a process that will no doubt be extended due to many anticipated protests from groups and individuals in Taos County.

While the Santa Fe County web site states that the diverted water will be treated at a water treatment facility and transmitted to storage facilities, either storage tanks or underground aquifers called Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), it appears that because of cost concerns the ASR, where water is injected into underground aquifers for storage and then recovered when needed, will be used for the water system. This concept has become more common in the last 10 to 15 years, largely because of its economic benefits—as opposed to the capital outlay for a reservoir or storage tanks—and because of already depleted aquifers that the injected water can help restore. The BOR will have to prove the feasibility of the proposed ASR system by drilling wells to make sure the contained system won’t mix with other aquifers.


All of this is going to cost a lot of money, of course, and the bill for the RSW is steadily climbing from the original $163 million (as stated on the Santa Fe County web site) in 2006 dollars to over $200 million today. While cost increase indexes are factored into the settlement legislation, many of the original estimates for various components of the project, including the ASR wells, may be well below actual costs. Another major concern is that as the drought continues the imported water slated for the settlement—both San Juan/Chama and TOW—may end up being paper, not wet water. And members of the Pojoaque Basin Water Alliance (PBWA), a group of non-pueblo valley residents who have consistently opposed the water delivery system to non-pueblos residents (see article in La Jicarita), are wondering if the County of Santa Fe, which will be responsible for operating the RWS for the first 10 years, has the capacity to enforce the terms of the agreement.


PBWA member Paul White disseminated a list of questions he hopes will be answered during the EIS public scoping period. They include:

• Is the original hydrographic survey, completed in 1964, adequate to determine the proper location for the proposed ASR wells?

• If restrictions are put in place that limit the amount of water that can be removed from the river where will the replacement water come from?

• How will pharmaceuticals be removed from the river water?

• Will there be a need to build more power lines for the pumping stations and filtration plant and will they all be underground?  Will new substation/stations be required?

• What would prolonged drought and lack of San Juan Chama Water do to affect the regional water system?

• How would other challenges to Rio Grande water rights (Texas claims, Elephant Butte challenges, priority calls on the Colorado River) including protection for species such as the silvery minnow affect the regional water system?

• Are the Top of the World water rights actually connected to the Rio Grande?

• How will contaminants from Los Alamos such as airborne particulates be treated?

• The Aamodt Settlement was touted as a non-discriminatory process, however Chupadero and other communities along Route 592 were left out of the planning for the water utility.  Will there be additional federal funding for a water utility along this corridor?

The Aamodt adjudication suit was filed in 1966; if  the terms of the settlement are fulfilled by 2017 the process will have taken 51 years.






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Aquifer Recharge White Paper

Just released by Santa Fe Watershed Association

Aquifer Recharge White Paper 11.pdf Aquifer Recharge White Paper 11.pdf
284K   View   Download

Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners act on water issue



April 9, 2013 BCC Summary

Santa Fe, NM – April 11, 2013 – Below is a summary of the actions taken by the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners (BCC). Commissioner Mayfield was excused, but participated for portions of the meeting by telephone.

The Consent Calendar was unanimously approved.

The March 12, 2013 BCC meeting minutes were unanimously approved.

Proclamations and Presentations

  • The BCC unanimously approved a Proclamation to celebrate the month of April 2013 as National County Government Month, “Smart Justice: Creating Safer Communities”
  • The BCC unanimously approved a Proclamation Honoring Denise Lamb For Her Outstanding Service As Chief Deputy Clerk For Santa Fe County
  • The Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC) Employees were recognized as part of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (April 14 – April 20, 2013)
  • RECC Employees who recently graduated from the State Law Enforcement Academy were recognized by the BCC. Patricia Lucero was recognized for earning Valedictorian of the Class
  • The BCC heard a presentation on the REDI Net Broadband development and operations – US Department of Commerce, Broadband Technology Opportunity Program American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funded Initiative to construct an open access broadband network in Northern New Mexico
  • A Proclamation was unanimously approved to recognize April 2013 as Donate Life Month

Matters From The Commission

  • Introduction of a Resolution establishing a Water Policy Advisory Committee (Discussion Only, First Hearing)
  • Introduction of a Resolution creating an asset management system for county facilities (Discussion Only, First Hearing)
  • Introduction of Resolution to support the use of water catchment systems throughout Santa Fe County and to direct staff to “Lead By Example” by considering the use of water catchment systems at Santa Fe County facilities (Discussion Only, First Hearing)
  • The BCC recognized the exceptional service of Santa Fe County Adult Detention Facility Warden, Mark Gallegos for his commitment and dedicated service to Santa Fe County over the past year

Staff And Elected Officials’ Items

Public Works Department

  • Amendment No. 1 to the building lease agreement with Women’s Health Services for the use of additional office space located at 901 W. Alameda, Santa Fe, New Mexico and to authorize the Chair of the Board Of County Commissioners to execute said agreement No. 1 and to obtain approval from the New Mexico Board of Finance for Amendment No. 1 was unanimously approved.

Public Hearings

Growth Management Department

  • CDRC Case # Z/S 08-5430 Spirit Wind West Subdivision – Unanimously approved (4-0, Commissioner Holian recused herself from the vote)
  • CDRC CASE # V-12-5430 Susan Sutton Variance – Unanimously approved
  • CDRC CASE # V/Z/PDP 12-5340 Family Dollar Store – Approved (4-1, with Commissioner Chavez voting against)
  • BCC CASE # MIS 12-5420 College Park Master Plat Authorization – Unanimously approved (4-0, Commissioner Mayfield did not participate in the vote) – Please note this was Master Plat Authorization, not master plan approval.


The BCC Packet is available online by clicking the BCC meeting event on the Events calendar or visiting the BCC committee page www.santafecountynm.gov/committees/board_of_county_commissioners_bcc. All approved Ordinances and Resolutions are available on the County website at www.santafecountynm.gov/ordinances_and_resolutions once they are approved and recorded. All BCC meetings are broadcast live at www.santafecountynm.gov, on Comcast Ch. 28 and on Que Suave AM 810. To view recorded video of this BCC meeting visit www.santafecountynm.gov/video_on_demand/. Transcripts of the meeting will be available within 10 working days at www.santafecountynm.gov, once approved.