SANTA FE, N.M.— The water rights application filed by a New York based corporation, seeking to “appropriate” 54,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the San Augustin basin in Catron County was thrown out last Friday by the New Mexico State Engineer. (See OSE order)
Bruce Frederick of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed a motion to dismiss the application on behalf of about 80 parties in the case. Frederick says he and his clients were very pleased with the decision. “The State Engineer’s decision confirmed what most objective water lawyers already knew — you can’t take the public’s water,” says Frederick, “unless you have a concrete beneficial use in mind. In this case, the applicant just wanted to hoard the water until its value increased enough to justify selling the water or the entire project on the open market. This is commonly how ore deposits like gold, copper and silver come to market, but under our Constitution, water belongs to the public and cannot be hoarded or exploited like a mineral resource.”
Learn more about the case.
The application, first filed in 2007, was originally protested by close to 1000 individuals, ranches, businesses and government agencies. Frederick said that the protestants had a variety of concerns, including that the application would impair existing water rights, deplete flows in the Rio Grande and Gila River stream systems, dry up springs, and harm fragile ecologies.
“I think people also strong sense that the application was just not right,” said Frederick. “People couldn’t understand how a private corporation could come in and monopolize an entire public water supply in order to speculate in future water markets,” said Frederick. “Turns out, they were right—the prior appropriation doctrine, which is strongly anti-speculative, has undermined the best-laid plans of would-be water barons for 150 years.”
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