A U.S. Supreme Court decision on Wednesday in a water fight between Florida and Georgia could have implications for a similar legal battle between Texas and New Mexico over the Rio Grande water supply, legal experts said. Five years ago, Texas sued New Mexico, asserting that New Mexico is in violation of the Rio Grande Compact, an interstate agreement that has governed water allocations between the two states and Colorado for 80 years. New Mexican farmers pumping the river’s groundwater cause river levels in Texas to drop, depriving Texans of the water they’re obligated to, the state argued. Over 1,000 miles away along the Florida-Georgia border, the Sunshine State is accusing its neighbor of taking more than its fair share of water from the Apalachiola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. In Wednesday’s decision, the high court remanded the case to the court-appointed special master responsible for issuing recommendations to the court.
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.
Despite the rains that doused parts of New Mexico on Monday, the state officially entered into drought conditions on the Rio Grande when water levels in two key reservoirs dipped below a critical legal threshold. On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929. In the Rio Grande watershed, reservoirs capture and store native Rio Grande water and water piped from northwestern New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama Project. Each drop is earmarked for particular users and managed under the legal strictures of the compact.
New Mexico’s next governor should be ready to confront the state’s critical water issues on his or her first day in office. That’s according to Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration, who spoke at a water conference at the University of New Mexico on Thursday. The agenda looked ahead—past the six remaining months of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration—to what the next governor needs to understand about New Mexico’s water challenges, from drought and water transfers to interstream agreements, including on the Colorado River, whose waters seven U.S. states and Mexico share. Connor noted that on the Rio Grande, Elephant Butte Reservoir is 18 percent full, and said it could drop to less than five percent by the end of this year’s irrigation season. “The governor needs to have some policy initiatives ready to go as quickly as possible because there are going to be water issues that need to be addressed from the get-go,” he said.
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.
This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to water, energy and climate change. Steve Pearce currently serves as New Mexico’s second district congressman and is the lone Republican running for New Mexico governor. Pearce is also a veteran of the Vietnam War and owned and operated an oilfield services company. NMPR: Coming off a bad winter and with drought returning to the state, what critical water issues are you keeping an eye on right now in New Mexico? Steve Pearce: Water is maybe the most important issue that New Mexico faces.
This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to water, energy and climate change. Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham currently serves as New Mexico’s congresswoman for the first congressional district. Before that, she worked in New Mexico state government as secretary of the Department of Aging and Long Term Services and the Department of Health. NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and drought has returned to the state, what critical water issues are you keeping an eye on right now? Michelle Lujan Grisham: I would actually disagree with your question.
This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to water, energy and climate change. Today, we feature state Senator Joseph Cervantes, a Democrat, who has served as a legislator for Doña Ana County since 2001. NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and we’ve got drought returning to the state. What critical water issues are you keeping an eye on right now? Joseph Cervantes: Clearly, the resolution of the Aamodt settlement and the Texas v. New Mexico litigation are critical to the state.
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.