For almost a year, drought conditions have gripped New Mexico, dropping lake levels and drying out riverbeds and rangelands alike. Even this summer’s monsoon rains haven’t been enough to alleviate drought conditions or bump up reservoir levels. And while El Niño conditions brew in the Pacific—foretelling wetter conditions for the Southwest later this year—right now, the state’s water situation is dire. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is now notifying farmers that the water it had stored is almost depleted, months before irrigation season’s typical end around Halloween. They can’t predict exactly when the water in El Vado Lake, on the Chama River in northern New Mexico, will run out.
New Mexico filed its responses to Texas and the federal government on a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande. On Tuesday night, New Mexico Attorney General and its contract attorneys filed the state’s counterclaims on Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado. We’ve posted those three pleadings below. A press release announcing the counterclaims included a quote from Balderas:
Our legal strategy will hold Texas and the federal government accountable for the significant amount of precious water being misappropriated that rightfully belongs to New Mexico’s working families and small businesses, and for the federal government not using proper accounting and failing to ensure reasonable water delivery improvements. Using the best science, technology and evidence-based strategy, we will protect our traditionally underserved and culturally diverse population, and protect against those interests that threaten our citizens and businesses.
As drying in the Middle Rio Grande spreads, and a lawsuit over the river’s waters moves through the U.S. Supreme Court, a top Texas official is calling out New Mexico’s water boss. Texas’ commissioner on the Rio Grande Compact Commission, Patrick Gordon, wrote a letter to New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine earlier this month. In it, he noted that certain actions by Blaine could put New Mexico at risk for even greater damages if Texas prevails in its case on the Rio Grande. Specifically, Gordon is concerned Blaine will approve a copper company’s plan to pump more than a billion gallons of groundwater each year from near Hillsboro, N.M.
Doing so would would violate the Rio Grande Compact of 1938, Gordon wrote, adding: “These ongoing violations reinforce Texas’s action in the United States Supreme Court and add to its recoverable damages against New Mexico.”
Five years ago, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado, alleging that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater near the Rio Grande, New Mexico failed for decades to send its legal share of water downstream. Texas filed the lawsuit after New Mexico sued over a 2008 operating agreement between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, southern New Mexico farmers and Texas water users.
There will be a new special master in the legal battle between Texas and New Mexico over the waters of the Rio Grande. The U.S. Supreme Court discharged Special Master Gregory Grimsal, a New Orleans-based attorney, in an order this week, replacing him on the case with Judge Michael Melloy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 2013, Texas sued the upstream states of New Mexico and Colorado, alleging that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump from groundwater wells near the Rio Grande, the state has failed to send its legal share of water downstream. In a unanimous opinion last month, the U.S. Supreme Court also allowed the United States to intervene in the case and pursue its claims that New Mexico has harmed its ability to deliver water under the Rio Grande Compact and under its international treaty with Mexico. Were New Mexico to lose against Texas and the federal government, the state could be forced to curtail groundwater pumping and pay damages of a billion dollars or more.
This morning, KUNM’s Hannah Colton led a discussion about the Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado lawsuit and water rights. If you missed today’s episode of Let’s Talk New Mexico, which was produced in partnership with NM Political Report, you can listen online here. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would allow the federal government to pursue its claim in the water case on the Rio Grande. During oral arguments before the court earlier this year, the U.S. government argued that New Mexico was also harming its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under its international treaty with Mexico. Guests on KUNM this morning included:
Peter White, Santa Fe water rights attorney
Jay Stein, attorney for City of Las Cruces
State Sen. Joe Cervantes
Tania Maestas, New Mexico Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs
Samantha Barncastle, attorney for Elephant Butte Irrigation District
We’ll have more coverage on the case and what’s at stake for New Mexico next week, but if you need a primer on the timeline of the issue, visit here.
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. The high court will allow the United States to intervene on the water case on the Rio Grande and pursue claims under the Rio Grande Compact. In 2013, Texas sued the upstream states of New Mexico and Colorado, alleging that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump from groundwater wells near the Rio Grande, New Mexico has failed to send its legal share of water downstream. During oral arguments before the court earlier this year, the U.S. government argued that New Mexico was also harming its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under its international treaty with Mexico. And now, the high court agrees the U.S. can pursue this claim in the case.
Our reporter Laura Paskus reported on the oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in a key water case that could have a massive impact on the state of New Mexico and water rights throughout the state. The full story is available here. And a timeline of events leading to the oral arguments in Washington D.C. is available here. We also wanted to provide you with the full transcript of the oral arguments, which is available below. These stories were reported in a partnership with the Santa Fe Reporter, KUNM-FM and New Mexico In Focus.
As severe drought returns to New Mexico, farmers and skiers alike fret over the state’s lack of snow. Meanwhile, on a cold, cloudy Monday morning in Washington, D.C., attorneys for New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and the United States government grappled over the muddy waters of the Rio Grande. In its U.S. Supreme Court case against New Mexico and Colorado, the State of Texas says that by letting farmers in southern New Mexico pump from wells near the Rio Grande, our state has failed to send its legal share of water downstream. The water fight has some New Mexicans gnawing their nails—and not just southern farmers whose water rights could be cut if Texas prevails. See all of NM Political Report’s stories on Texas v. New Mexico to date. Monday’s oral arguments before the court, over whether the feds can intervene under the Rio Grande Compact, drew a large crowd from the Land of Enchantment.
Things are complicated. Here’s a timeline to help you keep track of the Supreme Court lawsuit New Mexico is facing on the Lower Rio Grande. 1902 – The United States Reclamation Service (now the US Bureau of Reclamation) is established to study and develop water resources in Western states. 1906 – The United States and Mexico sign a convention to ensure the Rio Grande’s waters are shared equitably between the two countries. 1906 – Construction begins on dams and canals on the Rio Grande.
WASHINGTON, DC—On a frigid Monday morning in the nation’s capital, as most of the press corps turned its attention toward a water dispute between Florida and Georgia, attorneys for New Mexico and Colorado tried to fend off the ability of the United States government to protect its water interests on the Rio Grande. Attorneys for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states of Texas, Colorado and New Mexico presented oral arguments to the US Supreme Court. The issue at hand is whether the United States has the right to intervene in the longstanding interstate water dispute under the Rio Grande Compact. Each attorney had 10 to 20 minutes to weigh in on whether the federal government has a right to join the case based on the interstate compact the three states signed to divvy up the Rio Grande’s waters. In 2013, Texas sued its two northern neighbors, alleging that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater, which is hydrologically connected to the Rio Grande, New Mexico wasn’t sending its legal share of water to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.