August 31, 2023

Ohkay Owingeh water rights settlement now heads to Congress for approval

BLM New Mexico

Rio Chama, Old Spanish Trail.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Wednesday that she and Ohkay Owingeh Governor Larry Phillips, Jr. signed a settlement that resolves some of the decades-old disputes over water rights along the Rio Chama.

The settlement allows the Pueblo and nearby acequias to share water during shortages on the Rio Chama stream system rather than relying on priority administration. It also helps the Pueblo in its efforts to restore the bosque region and provides federal and state funding to improve water delivery systems and the ecosystem.

The agreement must now be approved by the U.S. Congress.

“Resolving the outstanding water rights claims of the Pueblos, Tribes and Nations in New Mexico is critical to moving our state toward greater equity and water security,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “I urge Congress to act quickly to advance this agreement through the Senate and House to deliver another win for everyone involved.”

Related: Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo reaches key milestone in water rights dispute

Phillips described the agreement as a historic moment for the Pueblo.

“It provides the water we need now and, in the future, to continue on our path to self-sufficiency. It will give us the means to restore the bosque, or riparian corridors, along our rivers, which are important to our culture,” he said in a statement. “The settlement will enable us to join our acequia neighbors to share water in times of shortage. The settlement provides many benefits to water users throughout the Rio Chama Basin. We will exercise our sovereignty to manage our water to ensure this sacred resource will be available for future generations.”

The acequias also support the agreement.

“This essential settlement on the Rio Chama provides the framework for Ohkay Owingeh and the most historic acequias in New Mexico to continue their traditional practice of water sharing,” Darel Madrid of the Rio de Chama Acequia Association said in a press release. “Together with the Pueblo, and the support of the State of New Mexico, the United States, and all our fellow acequias in the Rio Chama basin, we will move forward with the legal, technical, and financial resources needed to adapt to a declining supply.”