INDIAN WATER RIGHTS
SENATE PANEL OKS WATER
N.M. delegation pushes for settlements; president promises veto
By Staci Matlock
The New Mexican, Published: September 24, 2008
Two long-running Indian water-rights cases have moved another small
step closer to resolution, but the finish line still is tall hurdles
away -- and includes the threat of a presidential veto.
The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved
legislation to settle the Aamodt and Abeyta water-rights claims in
Northern New Mexico, sending the measure on to the full Senate. The
bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Sens., Pete Domenici, a Republican, and
Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat. A related bill was introduced in the House
by Congressman Tom Udall, a Democrat. This is the third attempt by the
New Mexico delegation to get legislation for the settlements approved.
Aamodt involves the water-rights claims by four pueblos -- Tesuque,
Nambé, San Ildefonso and Pojoaque -- Santa Fe County, the city
and nonpueblo water-rights holders in the Pojoaque Valley.
Abeyta is a water-rights case involving the claims of Taos Pueblo, the
town of Taos and acequia as well as community water associations in the
"These water claims languished for decades in federal court, leaving
New Mexicans uncertain about the future," Bingaman said in a statement.
"This legislation would enact into law the negotiated settlements that
pueblos, local government and other interested parties have worked so
hard to produce."
"We face an uphill climb to get it through Congress and to the White
House, but we will continue to push for its enactment," Domenici said
in a statement.
A group of nonpueblo residents remains concerned over details of the
complicated Aamodt settlement and what it ultimately will mean for
their water rights. "I'm against it until I know exactly what it
means," said Gary Clark, a Nambé resident who irrigates a couple
of acres from an 1859 acequia, echoing the concern of other neighbors.
Some remain opposed to a regional water system proposed as part of the
settlement. "I think the Aamodt settlement is terrible," wrote Michael
Rodriguez, a Rio en Medio resident, via e-mail. "It is a water grab."
Clark, Rodriguez and 10 other people in the valley who spoke with The
New Mexican recently also think what they say has mattered little to
officials and attorneys who agreed on the Aamodt settlement.
Others say the settlement is the best chance to protect both pueblo and
existing nonpueblo water rights and finally resolve the decades-old,
expensive Aamodt case.
State, county, city and pueblo attorneys worked for five years to reach
the settlement in the Aamodt case. In Abeyta, long negotiations between
Taos Pueblo and the Taos Valley Acequia Association led to an eventual
The Bush administration continues to oppose the Indian water-rights
legislation, in part because of the amount of federal funding requested
in both settlements.
Another Indian water-rights settlement involving Navajo Nation claims
to the San Juan River also is awaiting congressional approval.
The bill seeking settlement of the Aamodt and Abeyta water-rights
claims is supposed to ensure water rights for pueblos, which have the
oldest rights in the valley, as well as nonpueblo residents. The bill
also authorizes the secretary of the Interior to develop water
infrastructure in the Rio Grande Basin.
The regional water system proposed in the Aamodt settlement would cost
the federal government $160 million in the next decade. The state and
Santa Fe County would contribute $117 million for the project.
The Taos settlement is expected to cost the federal government about
$114 million, with the state contributing $15 million.
Robin Martin, owner of The New Mexican, is a party to the Aamodt case.
Contact Staci Matlock at 470-9843 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2008 The Santa Fe New Mexican