Public meetings on horizon for Abeyta water settlement

File photo

Community members gathered to learn about the Abeyta water rights settlement at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center in March 2017 in Taos.

Two public meetings about the implementation of Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement, aka Abeyta Settlement, will be scheduled in the next few months in the Taos area, according to Mary Carlson, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation.

"Those meetings will allow the public a chance to learn more about the settlement implementation and to submit questions and concerns," she said by email.

She said the dates and times for the public meetings are not yet available because the BOR is "in the final stages of selecting a contractor" to facilitate those meetings.

The Abeyta Settlement is a water-sharing agreement for the Taos Valley among several groups. In 1969, New Mexico went to federal court to establish who owns how much of the water in the Taos Valley. Parties to the case were the town of Taos, Taos Pueblo, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, 12 mutual domestic water associations and dozens of acequias, represented by the Taos Valley Acequia Association.

Some acequia parciantes, landowners, as well as the general public have expressed the desire for public meetings since the last one took place more than a year ago. Guardians of Taos Water--a group of activists who in March staged a protest against the settlement at a production well on the west mesa--went so far as to host a public forum on their own last May.

With respect to the various types of wells and other provisions in the settlement, Carlson said the BOR will comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and "start with an environmental assessment." She did not rule out the more in-depth process of an environmental impact statement.

"We will discuss the [NEPA] process further during the public meetings," she said.

During the past year, an implementation committee of settlement principals and/or their attorneys has been meeting in person or by conference call. The BOR continues as project manager for the settlement and is the team chair for this working group.

"The settlement parties continue to hold meetings or calls as necessary to communicate and coordinate on efforts to implement the settlement. These working discussions are not public," said Carlson.

Because these meetings are closed, much remains speculation. One Taos attorney familiar with the terms of the settlement said that most of the conversation about implementation is taking place among lawyers. A complicating factor in the implementation process could be changes in legal representation among key parties.

In early April, Santa Fe attorneys Seth Fullerton and Kyle Harwood officially began representing Taos Valley Acequia Association. Meanwhile, an office spokesperson for attorney Susan Jordan confirmed by telephone on July 10 that she continues to represent Taos Pueblo. The pueblo did not respond to requests for comments about implementation through emails or a written message left at the Water Resources office at the Multipurpose Building at Taos Pueblo.

At the July 16 board meeting of the Taos Valley Acequia Association, the Settlement Agreement Implementation Process was listed as a topic of discussion-- in executive session only.

And shortly before TVAA board members were set to tackle agenda item number 10 in the public part of the meeting--Withdrawal of Acequia Madre del Río Lucero y Arroyo Seco Update--it was moved by unanimous consent to executive session.

Taos News previously reported that the Acequia Madre del Río Lucero y Arroyo Seco voted March 16 not to pay its membership dues to the TVAA as a protest over what one ditch commissioner described as a lack of transparency surrounding the settlement. It remains unclear whether the relationship between the TVAA and Acequia Madre del Río Lucero y Arroyo Seco can be salvaged.

Other groups are experiencing pushback on some of the provisions in the settlement, particularly those concerning the mitigation wells and their placement. Some people say at mutual domestic water meetings they no longer can broach the subject during scheduled meetings because of "harassment" from those opposed to the settlement.

Hydrology studies for the placement of these wells continue. However, Carlson said there have been no updates to the settlement:

"This Settlement Model (the groundwater flow model) is fully documented in Attachment 3 to the Abeyta Settlement. Section 7.2.2 of the Abeyta Agreement describes the procedure to update the Settlement Model. There have not been updates," she said.

Meanwhile, back in October, Taos Pueblo quietly fulfilled the settlement requirement to develop a Water Code. It is available for on-site review only at Taos Public Library - the library will permit patrons to make a Xerox copy - and, according to the Office of the State Engineer, at the Pueblo's Water Resources Office.

Find more stories, graphics and photos related to the Abeyta Settlement at .

Disclosure: Taos News owner Robin Martin is a party to the Abeyta Settlement.

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