The Albuquerque Tribune carries this story about New Mexico’s Year of Water. Here’s the money quote: “In a water-poor state, in a water-poor region of the country, water disputes are common, volatile and protracted.”
New Mexicans always seem to be involved in court battles over water with other states, such as Texas, governed by interstate compacts, which try to govern local practices. While senior agricultural users have the constitutional rule of priority appropriation to give them a legal advantage in local disputes, money and lobbying clout give almost equal advantage to junior urban users.
And increasingly, local disputes in New Mexico are between those who see water as their life-blood – “El aqua es la vida,” as the Acequia Association says – and those who see water as a commodity with which to make money.
To lose a water war can mean, quite literally, that you or your community dies. Negotiation has been the rule, no matter how long it took.
Last year, three decades-long water disputes between American Indians, acequias and other water-rights holders – in the Nambe-Pojoaque-Tesuque Basin, the Taos area and the Navajo Reservation along the San Juan River – were settled, with all sides agreeing to share scarcity. This is the model for the future.
Senior-water-rights users such as the New Mexico Acequia Association, however, are keenly aware that junior urban users try to buy agricultural water rights at every opportunity, skirting the customs of win/win negotiations and using money to trump community.
As the Year of Water unfolds in New Mexico, with growing competition for our drought-stricken water supplies and shrinking aquifers keener than ever, the struggle between rural agricultural economies and ways of life and urban economies and populations will become ever-more apparent
New Mexico’s water as life-blood vs water as commodity are the same issues we see here in the Great Lakes.
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