My Turn

Opinion: Local water protectors speak up

By Buck Johnston, Taos Valley
Posted 2/27/19

Greetings fellow Taoseños! I would like to introduce our organization, Guardians of Taos Water, to the broader Taos community and clarify our intentions. We are a group comprised of local water …

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My Turn

Opinion: Local water protectors speak up

Posted

Greetings fellow Taoseños!

I would like to introduce our organization, Guardians of Taos Water, to the broader Taos community and clarify our intentions. We are a group comprised of local water protectors, farmers and community service personnel. Our primary focus is preserving local water systems that provide life and abundance for the inhabitants of this very special and unique place we call home.

We recognize the indigenous people of Taos Pueblo to be the original caretakers and protectors of this valley's land and water. We also recognize the Hispanic community's beneficial contributions and close relationship with our watershed.

GOT Water is here humbly on behalf of those that have no voice, such as the willows and cottonwood trees, the trout and the elk, as well as the generations of grandchildren who are not yet born into this world we are creating.

As water protectors, we understand there are many good people and organizations that have put in an incredible amount of work to preserve, protect and provide water for the people of Taos; and we give our most sincere thanks for all these efforts.

But there is a problem. All the major decisions about water in our community are based on a "40-year" water plan. That is about half of the life expectancy of those living in Taos. We are here to insure the vitality of the natural water systems for the next 500 years and beyond, as they have been kept healthy for many thousands of years before us. We refuse to be the generation that fails the water, and allows the viability of our sacred valley to be compromised.

The largest and most immediate threat to our future, locally, comes with the implementation of the Abeyta Settlement. Although the settlement solves some problems, it also puts us at risk in many ways. After meeting with several parties of the Abeyta Settlement, we understand that the effects of the supply and mitigation wells are uncertain and potentially disastrous. Note that the supply and mitigation wells are directly tied to each other, in that it is acknowledged in the settlement that the supply wells will decrease flow to the Río Grande through subsurface water systems. This decrease in flow can be offset through a transfer of water rights to mitigation wells where deep aquifer water can be poured into ditches, streams and rivers.

The entire web between the agreeing parties and the allocated water is incredibly complex. One thing is for sure: written into the Abeyta Settlement is funding for a full NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) study for each individual well, and some of these wells would be capable of withdrawing up to 1,800 gallons of water per minute. A full NEPA study includes an in-depth environmental and hydrological study considering impacts on wildlife and wetlands, and a full cultural impact study would look at our historical farming and acequia culture that is held so dearly to the people of Taos. The NEPA study also requires a public comment period that will allow the community to be properly informed and heard.

At this point, we are asking the parties involved voluntarily to initiate the NEPA process with a "cumulative and comprehensive" overview of all wells planned in the valley to avoid a court injunction. The implementation of the Abeyta Settlement is 25 percent state funded and 75 percent federally funded, which requires the NEPA process. Along with this letter, we will be submitting individual requests to each signing party to initiate the NEPA process. We need the effects of this settlement to be considered fairly for the sake of all life in this valley.

Buck Johnston is a Taos Valley resident.

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