Taos ‘water protector’ protests highlight complexities of water rights settlements

Nelson Cordova’s commanding presence quieted an audience gathered in one of the large ballrooms at Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque. Cordova, who is the director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, was about to begin his presentation on the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement, also known as the Abeyta Settlement, at the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute’s 64th annual Water Conference. 

The event, focused on tribal perspectives on water this year, drew a who’s who of water experts, researchers and engineers in the state, as well as an impressive showing of tribal leadership from across New Mexico’s indigenous nations. Water rights settlements were top of mind for many attendees. 

Speaking to the crowd, Cordova voiced what has become a common refrain among settlement parties: “Not everybody got what they wanted.”

Congress approved the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement in 2010, 41 years after adjudication was first filed in 1969. The settlement was one part of a wider push from the state to enshrine tribal water rights into law before appropriating water to other parties. Nelson Cordova, director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, speaking at the 64th Annual Water Conference, held at Buffalo Thunder.