Augustin Plains Ranch Water Grab Hearing

Public Hearing on December 13th

The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) has scheduled a hearing on two motions for summary judgment in regards to the Augustin Plains Ranch application to appropriate 54,000 acre feet per year of groundwater in the San Augustin Basin for bulk commercial sale and for municipal uses.  The New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed one motion on behalf of its clients and the Catron County Board of County Commissioners filed the other motion.

Meeting Details
Date: Wednesday, December 13th
Time: 1:00 PM
Place: Catron County Courthouse, 101 Main Street, Reserve NM (map)

This case has major implications for water management in New Mexico and for the future of rural communities in our state that would likely be exposed to water mining if Augustin Plains Ranch’s application is approved.  The Law Center represents over 80 individuals, several homeowners’ associations, and the Gila Conservation Coalition.

Augustin Plains Ranch applied once before, but the OSE denied that application and the denial was upheld by the Seventh Judicial District Court. A second application was not accepted by the OSE for filing, but a third, “corrected”, application was accepted for filing and public notice.  The third application is the subject of the current proceeding.

The Law Center has filed a motion asking the State Engineer to dismiss the 2016 “Corrected” Application for two reasons.  The first is that the “corrected” application fails to identify specific beneficial uses and particular places of use and end users.  These are statutory requirements for an application and were also missing in the prior application that was denied by the State Engineer.  The second reason is that the previous rulings of the State Engineer and the State District Court dismissing the earlier application are binding on the State Engineer.  Those rulings require the State Engineer to dismiss the “Corrected” Application because it is substantially the same as the earlier application that was denied by the State Engineer and the State District Court.

If neither motion for summary judgement is granted, the Scheduling Order issued on August 10 this year sets the evidentiary hearing on the Ranch’s application for June, 2019.

Posted on 12/07/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Join us as we celebrate our 15th annual series of Mother Earth, Father Sky, produced and hosted by Southwest Seminars to honor and acknowledge the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. This is a public program graciously assisted by Hotel Santa Fe, a Picuris Pueblo enterprise.
See full schedule of speakers or get PDF of schedule.

Monday evenings, October 23 - December 18.
Lectures begin at 6 PM. $96 for the series, or $15 at the door; first come, first served.

Southwest Seminars 2017 Schedule

October 30 - Rising River: Colorado River, Gand Canyon & Ancient Colorado Plateau Agriculture

Dr. Frances Levine,
Archaeologist , Historian; President, Missouri Historical Society; Co-Author (w/M. Weigle) Telling New Mexico: A New Mexico History; Author, Dona Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition: A 17th Century New Mexican Drama; Our Prayers Are in this Place: Pecos Pueblo Identity Over the Centuries; Former Director, New Mexico History Museum;

November 6


November 13 - Chaco Canyon Water

Vernon Scarborough, Jon-Paul McCool, M.A., & Samantha G. Fladd, M.A.
Vern: Distinguished University Research Professor and Charles Phelps Taft Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati; Author, The Flow of Power: Ancient Water Systems and Landscapes; Jon-Paul: Geographer, Satellite Remote Sensing Research; Samantha: Archaeologist, Chaco Canyon Water Management and Soil Salinity Research.

November 20 - Lost City of the Monkey God

Dr. Chris Fisher
Professor, Department of Anthropology, Colorado State University; Recipient, 2007 Gordon R. Willey Prize, American Anthropological Association; Co-Editor, The Archaeology of Environmental Change: Socionatural Legacies of Degradation and Resilience; and Seeking a Richer Harvest: The Archaeology of Subsistence Intensification, Innovation and Change; Co-Author, Identifying Settlement Patterns in the Mosquitia Region of Honduras, Archaeologist.

November 27 - American Serengeti and Coyote America

Dr. Dan Flores
Environmental Historian, A.B. Hammond Professor Emeritus of Western History, Recipient, 2017 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, Author: The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains; Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest; American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains; Coyote America: A Natural & Supernatural History.

December 4 - Lowriders I Have Loved

Don J. Usner,
Cultural Geographer, Photographer and Co-Author (w/Elmo Baca): New Mexico Route 66 on Tour: Legendary Architecture from Glen Rio to Gallup; (w/ Wm. DeBuys) Valles Caldera: A Vision for New Mexico’s National Preserve; Author: Orale! Lowrider: Custom Made in New Mexico; Chasing Dichos Through Chimayo; Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayo’s Old Plaza; Benigna’s Chimayo: Cuentos from the Old Plaza; Board Member, Chimayo Historic Museum.

December 11 - Volcanic Geology of the Jemez Mountain Range

Dr. Kirt Kempter,
Volcanologist and Field Geologist; Study Leader, Smithsonian Journeys to Antarctica and Iceland; Former Fulbright Scholar; Field research in Costa Rica, Mexico and New Mexico; Field Geologic Training for NASA Astronaut Candidate Program in New Mexico

December 18 - Losing Eden: Avoiding the Great Filter

Dr. Sara Dant,
Environmental Historian, Professor of History and Recipient, 2015/2017 Sustainability Research Faculty Award, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah; Co-Author (w/H. Roffman): Encyclopedia of American National Parks; Author, ‘Selling and Saving Utah: 1945 to Present’, in Utah History; Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West.

Series produced by Southwest Seminars, a 501(c)3 education non-profit; recipient 2008 Heritage Preservation Award, City of Santa Fe. (505) 466-2775

Posted on 10/26/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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2017 Mother Earth, Father Sky Lecture Series Begins

Join us as we celebrate our 15th annual series of Mother Earth, Father Sky, produced and hosted by Southwest Seminars to honor and acknowledge the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. This is a public program graciously assisted by Hotel Santa Fe, a Picuris Pueblo enterprise.
See full schedule of speakers or get PDF of schedule.

Monday evenings, October 23 - December 18.
Lectures begin at 6 PM. $96 for the series, or $15 at the door; first come, first served.

Posted on 10/26/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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NMELC Celebrates 30 Years by Telling the True Story of Fake News

Sometimes it takes a lie to tell the truth.

SANTA FE, NM — Celebrating a landmark three decades of social justice achievement, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (The Law Center) is hosting a live benefit featuring the notorious fake news pranksters, The Yes Men, on Saturday, October 7th at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.

The Yes Men have spent most of their adult lives creating fake news, justifying it with the tagline “Sometimes it takes a lie to expose the truth”. Decades before Donald Trump ran for president and fake news infiltrated real news, the Yes Men used fake news as a hoax to get massive amounts of real news coverage for real issues. Then came the 2016 election, and they watched in horror as fake news came to dominate real news.

The live and interactive evening entertainment will explore how this happened and how we can reclaim truth for our democracy.

“The 30th anniversary is an opportunity to take stock of the widespread fallout from the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies that touch everything from the air we breathe and the water we drink to civil rights,” said Doug Meiklejohn, founding attorney of the Law Center.  “It is an occasion to celebrate our successes, our partners and our resolve to remain focused.”

“The world still needs some saving,” says Yes Man Mike Bonanno, “but you know, the arc of history bends toward justice, even when it seems to be breaking. Come for laughter, answers, and mischievous ideas and to support the cause”.

Founded in 1987, The Law Center is a non-profit law firm that provides free and low-cost legal representation to New Mexicans throughout the state; its clients advocate for environmental protection, public health and community quality-of-life. The Law Center does not accept government funding, and is supported through donations from individuals, companies and foundations. 

There will be a private reception with the Yes Men and Master of Ceremony, Mary-Charlotte Domandi, from 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. in the Lensic Atrium for VIP ticket holders. The special package includes event VIP seating. Cost is $100. Hors d’oeuvre will be provided by the new Paloma restaurant, and there will be a cash bar using compostable plant-based cups.

For the Yes Men event alone, tickets are $35, $25 and $12 student. (A Lensic service fee will be added at time of purchase.)

To purchase tickets:
Visit the Event Calendar at,
find or search your event and click the “buy tickets” tab or call (505) 988-1234
Mary-Charlotte Domandi, producer and host of Radio Café, and a concerned New Mexican, will serve as Master of Ceremony.

To learn more about The Law Center or the Yes Men, visit

About The New Mexico Environmental Law Center
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s mission is to protect New Mexico’s communities and their air, land and water in the fight for environmental justice. The Law Center’s effective legal advocacy and representation on environmental and environmental justice issues will protect New Mexico’s communities and cultures, and ensure clean air, land and water for all. The work of the Law Center is made possible by tax-deductible contributions from individuals, business, foundations and limited earned income.

About The Yes Men
The Yes Men are a culture jamming activist duo and network of supporters created by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos. Through actions of tactical media, the Yes Men primarily aim to raise awareness about problematic social and political issues. To date, the duo has produced three films.

Posted on 09/21/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Santolina bulldozes forward

Last month, the Bernalillo County Commission approved Santolina’s Level B Master Plan - despite no support from constituents, no agreement from the Bernalillo County Water Authority and no evidence that the development will result in no-net expense to Bernalillo County taxpayers.

The majority of commissioners voted to follow the recommendation to allow the developer to move forward before having a water plan worked out – Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley voted against. The commissioners voted 3-2, in a separate hearing, to approve developers’ Level B Master Plan and allow them to move on to the Level C planning process. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins and Chairwoman O’Malley both voted against.

“We are pleased that Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins moved to grant our appeal of the County Planning Commission’s decision to recommend approval of the Level B.1 Master Plan, and that Chair O’Malley seconded that motion,” says Jaimie Park, NMELC Staff Attorney and lead counsel on the case. “It was not a surprise that the rest of the Commissioners voted ‘nay’ for that motion and ultimately voted to approve the incomplete Level B.1 Master Plan.”

Review and approval authority of major subdivision Level C documents is now in the hands of the County Planning Commission (CPC), yet because the County has agreed to allow Level C documents to be reviewed by the County Development Review Authority by summary procedures (pursuant to Condition 19 of approval for the Level A Master Plan), Level C will occur behind closed doors, in violation of the New Mexico Subdivision Act and Bernalillo County ordinances.

Read latest news stories:

Santolina Moves Ahead – Alibi

Santolina development takes another step forward – Albuquerque Journal

Controversy Swirls Around Santolina Water Plan Delay – KUNM

Posted on 09/08/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Santolina development takes another step forward

The County Planning Commission and county staff had recommended approval, although opponents of the project appealed the planning commission’s decision. That appeal was denied on the same 3-2 vote.

Jaimie Park, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who argued on behalf of SouthWest Organizing Project and other Santolina opponents, said the developer had failed to provide critical information to determine whether the development would truly result in no net expense to the county, which is one of the conditions. Strozier countered that the no net expense requirement had been addressed by both county staff and an outside firm hired by the county. Albuquerque Journal

Go to Albuquerque Journal for full story.

Posted on 08/31/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Supporting environmental group is of the utmost importance

The NMELC is an advocate for all that makes New Mexico a wonderful place to live: healthy communities, a well-functioning environment, social and environmental justice…Our organization, the Augustin Plains Challenge, is determined to make sure that decision-makers know that a lot matters besides lining corporate investors’ pockets. This project jeopardizes the viability of a thriving ranching community. NMELC stands on the front line with us, helping to safeguard our future.

Go to for full story.

Posted on 08/26/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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EPA budget cuts threaten to slow uranium cleanup at Navajo Nation

“Administrator Pruitt is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission,” an agency spokesman said. Pruitt has made it clear he wants to delegate more responsibilities to state and local governments for enforcement and cleanup.

But Eric Jantz, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center who represents the Red Water Pond Road community, said it’s “pure fantasy” for the EPA to shift greater responsibility to states and tribes while simultaneously slashing funding.

Go to for full story.

Posted on 08/21/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Augustin Plains Ranch order released, meetings scheduled on controversial water project

Now in its third iteration, the application is pending before the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, which administers the state’s water resources. In July, the state agency canceled a pre-hearing meeting. But last week, it released the application’s scheduling order, which includes information about the project and the process, as well as upcoming public meetings…The New Mexico Environmental Law Center represents a group opposed to the plan that includes 85 people and three landowner associations. NM Political Report

Go to NM Political Report for full story.

Posted on 08/18/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Controversy Swirls Around Santolina Water Plan Delay

In the end commission newcomer, Democrat Steven Michael Quezada sided with the county’s two Republican commissioners in favor of letting the development proceed without a water agreement in place.

New Mexico Environmental Law Center attorney Jamie Park argued against letting the project go forward without a water agreement. “We were not surprised,” Park said. “We expected the board to just go ahead and do what the developers requested of it. It’s still not lawful.” KUNM

Go to KUNM for full story.

Posted on 08/16/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Santolina project given more time to prepare water plan

Despite impassioned pleas from dozens of residents, Bernalillo County commissioners are giving Santolina developers more time to provide a water plan for the 21-square-mile development southwest of Interstate 40 and 118th Street…

Jaimie Park, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who argued on behalf of SouthWest Organizing Project and the other Santolina opponents, told commissioners that if they agreed to the amendments they would essentially be undermining their own ability to assess whether the water plan they come up with complies with the requirements and they would be eliminating the public’s right to provide public comment and testimony because the water issues would be handled at an administrative level. Albuquerque Journal

Go to Albuquerque Journal for full story

Posted on 08/16/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Special Hearing on Santolina Despite Unanswered Questions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Bernalillo County Commission (BCC) will hold a special hearing on Tuesday, August 15 to consider several issues concerning the Santolina mega-development proposed west of Albuquerque.

This “Level B” process marks the last time under the county’s Planned Communities Criteria process that the BCC will be able to consider—or the public will be able to weigh in on—this part of largest development ever proposed for the county.

WHAT:  Bernalillo County Commission Hearing on Santolina development
WHEN:  Tuesday, August 15 at 5:00 pm. (To be continued on August 30 if necessary).
WHERE:  Vincent E. Griego Chambers, City/County Building, One Civic Plaza, NW [Map]

“The Santolina developers have failed to demonstrate that they can make their project a reality,” says Juan Reynosa with SouthWest Organizing Project. “When judged on its own merits, Santolina has failed in the courts, in front of the commission, and in the hearts and minds of the public. And yet, Level B could be approved because a bunch of wealthy lawyers and developers say it should. What kind of process is that?”

Issues under consideration by the BCC will include:

- Developers’ proposal that the BCC abandon conditions that require developers to prove their water before they can get Level B approval, i.e. provide a fully executed agreement with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to water. (Santolina is estimated to need approximately 4.6 billion gallons/year at full build out, similar to Rio Rancho’s current use.)

- Two appeals brought by community advocates based on concerns about conflict of interest, improperly admitted evidence, and failure to adhere to the County’s own planning rules. The appeals challenge the County Planning Commission’s recommendation that the BCC approve the Level B.1 Master Plan, and its recommendation that the BCC allow Santolina to move forward to the Level C process without complying with water requirements.

- Developers’ first Level B Master Plan – a request to approve the Santolina’s first 4,000+ acre village site.

The Commission will also hear two appeals brought by:

The community advocates are represented by the non-profit, public-interest New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC).

The first appeal challenges a recommendation by the Planning Commission that the BCC approve the Level B.1 Master Plan, despite the failure of the developer to meet several requirements in the county’s Planned Communities Criteria.

The second appeal (see Part I and Part II) challenges the recommendation by the Planning Commission that the BCC remove conditions from its Level A approvals that would require Santolina to prove that it has water for the project before its Level B.1 Master plan can be approved.

“There have been several procedural issues with County hearings on Santolina,” says Jaimie Park, NMELC attorney for the groups. “Just as we did with our successful challenge of the initial zoning change for the development, we will pursue all procedural issues in court. Our elected officials should not be violating rules for the profit of major developers.”

For more information about this case, please see the NMELC Santolina Case Page, our fact sheet and timeline.

New Mexico Environmental Law Center is celebrating 30 years of fighting for environmental justice for the people of New Mexico. The NMELC’s mission is to protect New Mexico’s communities and their air, land and water in the fight for environmental justice.


Posted on 08/14/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Pipeline plan exposes dated water laws

The New Mexico State Engineer’s Office has denied the request twice before on the grounds that there was no buyer to put the water to beneficial use, but the ranch is back for a third try, this time before a new state engineer.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is representing local ranchers and the Gila Conservation Coalition, which oppose the plan. Tribal governments, federal agencies, acequia associations and local governments in Socorro and Catron counties have also formally opposed the project, according to NM Political Report. Las Cruces Sun-News

Go to Las Cruces Sun-News for full story.

Posted on 08/11/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Santolina Strikes Again

We continue to fight approval of mega-development west of Albuquerque

In June, we told you about a tremendous victory that we won in state Court in this case: the judge reversed Santolina’s zone change from “Agricultural” to “Planned Community”.

We need you to help stop this juggernaut!
Please join us at the Bernalillo County Commission’s next hearing on Santolina!

WHEN: Tuesday, August 15 at 5pm. Hearing to be continued on August 30 if necessary.

WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers, City/County Building, One Civic Plaza, NW [Map]

Despite this ruling – which voids all of the subsequent decisions on the project – Bernalillo County is moving forward with hearings on the proposal’s Level B.1 plan. Worse, it’s considering an ill-advised plan by the developer to shove the proof-of-water requirements that Santolina should have done during its Level A and Level B phases down to the Level C phase.


This is exceedingly dangerous for several reasons.

First, it means that the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC) is making decisions about allowing a new 93,000-person city (roughly the size of Rio Rancho) without critical answers about water supply – primarily where is Santolina planning to get the 12.6 million gallons of water that it will need every day? This question was supposed to be answered in 2015 before the BCC approved the Level A plan. But the BCC ignored the rules so that Santolina could prove its water as part of its Level B.1 submittals.

Now the developer wants even more. Wait until the final Level C process before you make us show that we have water, the developers asked. Frighteningly, the County Planning Commission said it’s a good idea, and recommended that the BCC approve it. And the Planning Commissioners did so in spite of a conflict of interest and improperly admitted evidence (see our appeal Part I and Part II for all the sordid details.)

Second, this marks the last time that we (the public) and elected officials will have the opportunity to weigh in on this project. Because of maneuvering by the developer and County Commissioners in 2015, Santolina’s final approvals will be handled by the County Development Review Authority, which has no oversight by elected officials or mechanism for public input. (Santolina case page)

This hearing is important, and we hope you can join us. In the words of Norm Gaume, architect of the 1997 Albuquerque Water Resources Management Strategy, here’s what’s at stake:

If the panel makes the wrong decision – to ignore water – and the Bernalillo County Commission approves that decision later this summer, the outcome will jeopardize our region’s public water supply, negatively impact local consumers, and affect taxpayers throughout the state.

Read his entire op-ed here. We hope that you will join us and our clients on August 15 for this important fight.


Posted on 08/08/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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Martinez Administration Moves to Weaken Water Rules

Water polluters look for a final hurrah under pro-industry governor…but NMELC, Amigos Bravos and the Gila Resources Information Project are standing in their way – and we need your help!

Over the past year, Staff Attorney Jaimie Park has challenged an attempt by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to weaken statewide rules governing the quality of groundwater and surface water. The timing could not be more important, as the Trump administration launches an all-out assault on federal water regulations.  Here’s how NMED is looking to weaken the rules that protect your water…

  1. When at first you don’t succeed, make a new, unauthorized regulatory mechanism that reduces transparency.
    NMED wants to use a nifty trick that it employed in the polluting Copper Rule to deal with permit changes across the board: discharge permit “amendments”.  As stated by Jaimie in a recent filing that, “It is conceivable that the public would never receive notice of any changes made to monitoring, reporting, sampling and analysis, closure plan, containment system(s), pollution control unit(s) and sewerage system(s) requirements under NMED’s proposed amendment. This is because NMED’s proposed “discharge permit amendment” would not require public notice, public comment, and an opportunities for public hearing.”

  2. Ensure that new chemicals are covered by water quality rules…but leave a lot off the list.
    NMED does not include dangerous toxins such as chlorobenzene, phthalate, dioxin, chromium III and VI, glyphosate, lead acetate, etc. Those chemicals should be strictly regulated for public health (see our filing, page 24 for a full list of what our clients want added to the list).

  3. Enact standards that could expose ten times as many people to cancer risk than states that are more serious about water protection and public health.
    NMED is proposing water quality standards based on the risk of one cancer per 100,000 exposed persons. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends, and the states of California and Washington have enacted, standards based on the risk of one cancer per 1,000,000 exposed persons. Don’t New Mexicans deserve rules that are as protective of human health?

  4. Too tough to get a permit to pollute, and go through the rigamarole of public notice and hearings? New: lifetime variances!
    Another Martinez gift from the Copper Rule, this would allow companies to obtain variances that allows them to pollute groundwater for the life of a facility (for context, the Chino mine has operated since 1909.) Currently, companies need to reauthorize their variances every five years. The system that we have on hand ensures that companies work to keep water clean; lifetime variances would give them an incentive to pollute.

NMELC and its clients applaud some of the measures that NMED is proposing (for instance, we like the new proposed arsenic standard!) But ultimately these amendments will do more to harm than help our water supplies and the health of New Mexicans.

The Water Quality Control Commission has scheduled a public hearing for November 14. We will keep you informed as that date approaches.


Posted on 08/08/2017 • PermalinkBack to top

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