Meandering progress for water plan

 By Andy Dennison
 The Taos News, 3/13/2008

  The Taos County Regional Water Plan certainly has gone through the wringer.

  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 knowledge.

  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