All week long, we track environment news around the western United States, ferreting out the most important stories and new studies you need to read to understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around New Mexico. Then Thursday morning, you get that news in your Inbox. For a while, we’ve been posting those New Mexico Environment Review emails on our website, too. But to be honest, the emails don’t translate well to stories on the website. So instead we’re asking you to subscribe if you want to read that news each week.
When Carol Pittman heard that New Mexico’s top water official denied a company’s application to pump groundwater from below the valley where she lives, she was thrilled. “What could be better?” she said. “That project would have just destroyed the place.”
For 11 years, Pittman and her neighbors fought plans by Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC to pump 54,000 acre feet of water each year from the aquifer below the Valley of San Agustin.* That wide, dramatic valley lies west of the Rio Grande Valley and is flanked by volcanic fields and mountains. Most of the valley is in Catron County, whose total population tops out at about 3,500 people. For more than 20 years, Pittman and her husband have lived near the community of Datil, on land that borders the Augustin Plains Ranch.
Almost 100 people packed into the Catron County Courthouse in Reserve, N.M. last week for a hearing about plans to pump groundwater from beneath the Plains of San Agustin in southwestern New Mexico. Augustin* Plains Ranch, LLC wants to pump 54,000 acre-feet of water—more than 17 billion gallons—each year from the aquifer and pipe it to commercial or municipal water customers hundreds of miles away. The state has rejected similar applications from the company twice. Now, a third application is pending before the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, which administers the state’s water resources. The final decision will lie with the State Engineer, a position currently held by Tom Blaine, who was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez three years ago.
For about a decade, tensions have flared over a proposed water project in southwestern New Mexico. Last year, Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC filed the third version of its application with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, requesting permission to pump 54,000 acre-feet—more than 17 billion gallons—of water each year from the aquifer and pipe it to the Albuquerque area. If approved, the company would draw water from 37 wells, all in sparsely-populated Catron County, near the town of Datil. But at a public meeting in Socorro Thursday night, the scene was subdued. Opponents of the proposed San Augustin Plains water project filled an auditorium at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and New Mexico State Police officers kept an eye on things inside and outside the Macey Center.
A few weeks ago, we reported on a proposal by Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC to build a pipeline and pump 54,000 acre-feet of water each year from the aquifer to the Albuquerque area. The 37 wells would all be in Catron County near the town of Datil. Now in its third iteration, the application is pending before the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, which administers the state’s water resources. In July, the state agency canceled a pre-hearing meeting. But last week, it released the application’s scheduling order, which includes information about the project and the process, as well as upcoming public meetings.
The big environment story last week was an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying that it can’t pay claims of more than a billion dollars in economic damages caused by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. As the AP reported on Friday:
A total of 73 claims were filed, some by farmers who lost crops or had to haul water because rivers polluted by the spill were temporarily unusable for irrigation and livestock. Rafting companies and their employees sought lost income and wages because they couldn’t take visitors on river trips. Some homeowners sought damages because, they said, their wells were affected. Tribes, including the Navajo Nation, were also affected.