progress for water plan
By Andy Dennison
The Taos News, 3/13/2008
The Taos County Regional Water Plan certainly has gone through
One observer said he knew any widespread agreement on water in
Taos would be troublesome — just not three years’ troublesome.
But ever since a proposed transfer of about 600 acre-feet of
groundwater rights from Costilla’s Top of the World Ranch to Santa Fe
County surfaced, Taose-os have worried that their water is being
sold out from under them behind closed doors.
So what is finally coming out in the wash is a document
sufficiently specific for approval by the Interstate Stream
Commission, sufficiently vague for water-rights stakeholders but
dedicated to more public awareness.
A final version will be forwarded to the interstate
commission in time for its April meeting. Included will be the
technical portion of the plan — the supply-demand data — and a
much-discussed, much-edited Public Welfare Statement.
As the last of 16 regions to quantify supply, demand and
values in a water plan, Taose-os have struggled to find a balance
between privacy and transparency when transfers of water rights
occurred. Public entities feared too much power for a non-elected
board, while conservationists saw too much going on without public
A steering committee put in three years of meetings and public
input, and produced 26 drafts. Two sets of mediators came and went. A
fall meeting spelled doom to a proposed review panel and stalled a
required public welfare statement. A November submittal to
the Interstate Stream Commission got returned: Find consensus among the
parties, commissioners said.
“Since the fall, all the municipalities, sanitation and water
districts, and mutual domestics (water associations) had the same
concerns (against any review panel),” said Sarah Backus, manager of El
Valle de Los Ranchos Water & Sanitation District. “Most wanted
awareness but how that was to happen became an issue.”
Deadlines for a completed water plan loomed. In the background
always is the 1938 R'o Grande Compact that needs data to fairly
apportion the river’s water for Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
At the new year, state-hired mediators went to work to get nine
“decision-makers” to hammer out a regional plan.
First, they took any mention of an independent review panel
off the table. Later, implementation of values in the public welfare
statement were left to individual elected entities — and another day.
Then, they brought the decision- making bodies together for
two, day-long meetings — the last on March 7.
The decision-makers finally agreed on enough to satisfy the
interstate stream board. “The tipping point came when everyone realized
they had more of a collective interest than a divisive interest,” said
Ron Gardiner, a water policy consultant from Questa. “ Existence of an
approved regional water plan puts Taos in the competitive game for
state and federal water funds.
Representatives from five municipalities, two sanitation
districts, Taos County, the local acequia association, and the soil and
conservation district still have work to do. The nuts-and-bolts of
a proposed annual water congress and information center,
guidelines for collaborative enforcement of the values in the welfare
statement, and region-wide priorities and water-rights protests are yet
to be addressed.
A series of committees will grapple with collective issues, such
as watershed and growth management, monitoring and public
education. But most came away from the final meeting optimistic
“The fact that we agreed to meet again was huge,” said Jay
Lazarus, hydrogeologic consultant to the town of Taos.
Copyright (c)2008 The Taos News 03/13/2008