July 6, 2022

Texas v. New Mexico water trial delayed for settlement talks

Laura Paskus

Downstream of Elephant Butte Dam, water issues get even trickier.

A trial in the case Texas brought against New Mexico centered around Rio Grande water use has once again been delayed.

This delay comes amid negotiations that could lead to a settlement.

In the case, which dates back to 2013, Texas argues that use of groundwater in New Mexico below Elephant Butte reservoir is depleting water in the Rio Grande and depriving Texas of some of its share under the Rio Grande Compact.

“We assembled the best legal and scientific team in the nation to disprove that our farmers and our communities owed billions in damages to Texas, and we are now on the cusp of an exciting historic settlement agreement that will protect New Mexico water for generations to come,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a press release announcing the delay.

The United States has also intervened in the case and argues that New Mexico’s use of groundwater could also hamper the country’s ability to meet its treaty obligations to Mexico.

Related: In Deep Water: U.S. Supreme Court to decide how states share the drying Rio Grande, and New Mexico could lose big

Last year, a virtual trial allowed the court-appointed special master to hear testimony from witnesses. The virtual trial was supposed to be the first part of a two-part trial, which would include an in-person trial. The in-person trial was originally scheduled for March of this year, but, in January, New Mexico, Texas and the other parties involved asked for a delay amid settlement talks. That delay pushed the trial back to October of this year.

Representatives from the federal government, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado met along with a mediator and an amici, or a person who is not involved in the case who is brought on to advise, on June 24 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Related: EBID officials, farmers testify during virtual Texas v. New Mexico water trial

After the meeting, all of them but Texas requested delaying the trial. According to a court order issued Tuesday to delay the trial, Texas opposed this move “at least until the parties determine if there will be any significant obstacles to the drafting of a final settlement agreement.”

The court-appointed Special Master heard the arguments and, on Tuesday, issued an order delaying the trial. A status conference will occur on July 26, during which the parties will brief the court on progress made, or lack of progress, toward reaching a settlement agreement.

The settlement could do more than ensure New Mexico’s water rights. In 2015, the state legislators expressed concern that it could cost the state an estimated $2 billion in addition to the millions already spent on legal fees.