Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lawsuit seeks accounting for Rio Grande water use

Lawsuit seeks accounting for Rio Grande water use By Ollie Reed Jr. / Journal Staff Writer Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 at 12:05am ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A lawsuit filed in state district court by an environmental organization demands that the New Mexico state engineer make the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District prove it uses as much water as it is permitted to use. In the suit, WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe-based organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of wildlife, wild places and wild rivers, claims that “despite clear mandates,” the conservancy district has avoided showing it uses all of the water the state Engineer’s Office approved permits for in 1925. The conservancy district delivers water to 65,000 acres of croplands in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. In the suit, filed in Santa Fe on Monday, WildEarth Guardians requests that the court compel state Engineer Tom Blaine to set a date by which the conservancy district prove actual use of the water it claimed in 1925 or cancel the district’s permits. The Engineer’s Office did not immediately respond to phone calls requesting comment. In a news release, the conservancy district declined to comment on the lawsuit but noted that it “does acknowledge that the Rio Grande Compact Commission and the Interstate Stream Commission have been working with the district since its inception and there has not been an accounting issue to date.” The Rio Grande Compact governs the distribution of water among New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. In the suit, WildEarth Guardians refers to a May 1996 state water engineer’s memorandum that indicates the conservancy district put 164,598 acre feet of water to beneficial use in 1979 compared with 301,599 acre feet in 1928. An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre at a depth of one foot. According to the suit, state law requires a permit holder to prove beneficial use of water by a specified date. The suit claims the state granted the conservancy district extensions from 1935 to 1987 and set another deadline of Dec. 31, 1997, but the conservancy district has yet to provide proof of beneficial use of all the water it is allowed under the permit. “For 80 years the state has given the district a blank water check which is depriving the Rio Grande, the bosque and their native fish, wildlife and plants of the water they need to thrive,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The district has a responsibility to the water users in the district, as well as the citizens of New Mexico, to only use the water it needs.” WildEarth Guardians also filed two applications with the state engineer to appropriate any water not put to beneficial use by the conservancy district for storage in an environmental pool in Abiquiu Reservoir. Water in the environmental pool would be reserved to protect and restore flows, habitat and ecosystems important to the survival of fish, wildlife and plants of the Rio Grande, the environmental organization said.

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