Chevron transfers water rights from mine

A 2003 aerial view of the Chevron molybdenum mine near Questa. The mine is one of thousands of mining sites throughout the state with large-scale environmental cleanup needs, and one of only a handful that hasn’t been abandoned by its operators before any cleanup occurred. New Mexican file photo

Chevron Mining Inc. will be transferring water rights from a 1,433 acre plot of land near Questa, which formerly acted as the tailings facility of the molybdenum mine. These water rights will be transferred to various mutual domestic associations across Taos County for their continued use.

"This is going to be great," said Del Torres, president of the Talpa Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association. "It's going to allow us to come in and hook up some more people."

Torres serves over 130 water connections in the Talpa area and said the new water rights will be a much-needed reprieve for the association.

Recently, Torres said some of the connections in Talpa have had their well run dry. The 28 acre-feet of water the association is receiving from the mine will help ensure that doesn't happen by allowing the association to add more connections and be able to pull more water from wells. (One acre-foot is equal to about 325,850 gallons of water.)

"It's very important," Torres said. "This allows us to continue on in the future."

The money to buy and transfer water rights from Chevron was appropriated to the association as part of the Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement, commonly known as Abeyta, according to Llano Quemado Mutual Domestic Water Association president Andrew Chavez.

"Lucky for us, we were able to be part of this," Chavez said. "It's going to allow us to provide water for our service area without having to dry up irrigated land."

Chavez said he remembers a time when families were just lucky enough to have water in their homes. Now, the 300 active connections in Llano Quemado will see an increase in their available water for the future with the water rights from Chevron.

Chevron shut down molybdenum mining operations near Questa in 2014 and has since been working on cleanup efforts for the area. The mutual domestic associations are community-based water organizations that provide water to their communities.

Water rights in New Mexico are as precious as gold to some - Chavez said the association would have to have paid $16,000 per acre-foot of water without the funding through the Abeyta Settlement.

"[Chevron] is no longer using it so I don't think it's controversial," Chavez said.

Anyone is allowed to protest the transfers of the 132 acre-feet to the nine mutual domestic associations that have applied for the rights thus far. Protests must be made to the state engineer by mid-January.

The current use of the water rights is for domestic and mining purposes, which included the transportation of waste materials from the mine.

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