Song and drumming filled the morning as a local water activist finished his four-day action atop a 60-foot-tall well drilling rig.

Buck Johnston climbed up the machinery on U.S. 64 Thursday (March 14) to protest the drilling of a deep water well and came down Sunday morning (March 17) just before 10 a.m.

He was greeted by four family members. New Mexico State Police allowed them to walk to the drilling rig and perform a cleansing ceremony for Johnston. He was taken into custody but state police have not said if he was immediately arrested and what charges he would face.

The prayer camp saw at least a couple hundred people in the hour before Johnston finished his demonstration.

“We’re here in prayer and to focus on our man up there, on his safety and well being and…finishing his prayer at the fire,” said Marie Tucker, of Taos Pueblo.

“Like a warrior that he is, he will face whatever consequences. But we’re here to support him fully, regardless if it’s this way in prayer and if we need to support him at the courthouse. The battle never stops. Thank you for everyone who came here in respect and honor for what we represent,” she said. “Water is life.”

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Johnston is one of the water protectors raising awareness of the implementation of the Abeyta Settlement, a highly complex water sharing agreement. They worry about the environmental consequences of deep-aquifer drilling, and argue there should be a more comprehensive environmental and cultural review of the settlement's implementation.

Under the terms of the settlement, El Prado Water and Sanitation District must relocate some of its water pumping away from a religiously important pasture at Taos Pueblo.

The Midway Well, which became the site of the demonstration, is one of the projects of the settlement. The well was recently drilled to 913 feet, according to the El Prado water district.

John Painter, board member of the El Prado district, said the protest came at an especially critical moment in the drilling process. The interior of the well could have failed over the past four days. If that happened, the district will have to essentially start from scratch, Painter explained.

State police crisis negotiators were on hand since Thursday afternoon. By the third day, they had abandoned their efforts to convince Johnston to come down, according to Guardians of Taos Water, the coalition of people raising awareness about the Abeyta Settlement.

The coalition’s members and supporters will disband the prayer camp in the coming days. State police are monitoring the clean-up while the drilling operators assess the site and their equipment.

This story will be updated as information is available. For more on the four-day action, as well as history and context of the Abeyta Settlement, see the March 21 edition of The Taos News.

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