After more than three years, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the environmental impact of the Abeyta Water Rights Settlement.
Meetings sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation are set for Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 21-22), 4-7 p.m. each day, at the Sagebrush Inn and Suites located at 1508 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos.
Reclamation released a news announcement Oct. 15, which ushers in a 30-day comment period for a Programmatic Environmental Assessment. People have until Nov. 20 to comment on the impact of the settlement.
Often referred to simply as Abeyta, the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement was agreed to in 2012 after decades of negotiations among Taos Pueblo, Taos Valley Acequia Association, a dozen mutual domestic water suppliers and the El Prado Water and Sanitation District.
It became effective and enforceable by law in 2016.
The Abeyta case began decades before the agreement was reached as Taos Pueblo sought to confirm its rights to more than 8,000 acre feet of water. The settlement first and foremost established in law Taos Pueblo's ancestral water rights.
The purpose of the meetings is for the public to learn more about the mutual benefits projects outlined in the settlement. Some of these projects include deep aquifer wells that have been the subject of recent protests by Guardians of Taos Water.
Since 2012, local acequia associations and water users in the Taos Valley have questioned how the settlement projects will affect both the quantity and quality of local streams, springs, acequias and the shallow aquifer that supplies private water wells.
Reclamation spokesperson Mary Carlson said by email that these meetings will be the first of several opportunities the public will have to comment during this process.
She emphasized that while Reclamation does not construct the projects, it "must comply with NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] by analyzing the effects of the projects on the natural human environment."
She explained that the Programmatic Environmental Assessment will provide a general analysis of the projects as a whole "to support and streamline future site-specific NEPA compliance for the individual projects."
To facilitate the meetings, Reclamation has contracted with Environmental Management and Planning Solutions Inc., headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. A spokesperson for the company said Reclamation will decide how comments will be accepted during the meetings.
Reclamation stated that instructions for submitting public comments will be presented during the public scoping meetings.
Comments may be submitted by email to BOR-sha-AAOTaosNEPA@usbr.gov.