Questioning the 'mutual benefits' of Abeyta Settlement

Acequias funnel waters from a variety of springs and run-off tributaries throughout the valley. Rick Romancito/ The Taos News

The March 21, 2019 edition of The Taos News contained several stories about water issues in the Taos Valley. Read the front-page story about a four-day protest at a water well, an explainer of the Abeyta Settlement, and Taos County’s decision to drop its protest of a different but still controversial water rights settlement.

The Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y Arroyo Seco voted Saturday (March 16) not to pay its membership dues to the Taos Valley Acequia Association as a protest over what one ditch commissioner described as issues with transparency surrounding the Abeyta Settlement.

The acequia voted 53 to 3 not to pay its annual dues to the organization, effectively leaving the TVAA, said commissioner Chris Pieper.

"Parciantes gave the following reasons [for the vote]: never having voted to sign the Abeyta Settlement, having been mislead and deceived about its affects and costs, a lack of transparency and no support outside of the settlement," said Pieper.

The ditch was close to making a similar vote to leave the TVAA last June.

The Abeyta Settlement is a legally binding resolution to Taos-area water rights disputes. Around 1987, Taos Pueblo claimed a right to nearly 8,000 acre-feet of water each year out of the Río Lucero and Río Pueblo de Taos. (One acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.) If the pueblo were to assert its full rights in this arena, it could mean water users downstream, including Seco irrigators and the town of Taos, could be left dry.

The TVAA asked the pueblo to negotiate a deal to avert that scenario, rather than face the uncertainty of lawsuits between the tribe and non-Indian water users. The pueblo agreed, and the deal is known as the Abeyta Settlement. The settlement was largely finalized in 2013 and is now being implemented.

In 2017, the parciantes voted overwhelmingly to reject a key proposal in the Abeyta Settlement, called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), Pieper said. The aquifer storage idea calls for pulling water from the Río Lucero during the winter, pumping that water deep underground and then pulling it back out of the aquifer during irrigation season to increase the flow of the acequia.

"The TVAA Board and staff will work (and have worked in the past) with all members on their payment of dues," read a statement from the TVAA through their attorney Kyle Harwood.

"The staff works regularly and year-round with the member acequia commissions on all issues, including the payment of dues, and we look forward to hearing any questions or concerns from the commission of the Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y Arroyo Seco," it read.

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