Questioning the 'mutual benefits' of Abeyta Settlement

By Rick Brown
Posted 1/7/20

In many parts of Taos County, including where we live, everyone is on private wells without access to municipal water. We also have access to an acequia, of which I am a parciante and active user. I am very concerned about the "Mutual Benefits projects" (which in my opinion actually benefit very few people) for several reasons.

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Questioning the 'mutual benefits' of Abeyta Settlement

Posted

In many parts of Taos County, including where we live, everyone is on private wells without access to municipal water. We also have access to an acequia, of which I am a parciante and active user. I am very concerned about the "Mutual Benefits projects" (which in my opinion actually benefit very few people) for several reasons.

One is because I am on a private well. Under the "Mutual Benefits Projects" several new water supply wells would be drilled into the deep aquifer, with very large pumps to draw out a large amount of water. These could draw down the water table and cause us to lose our wells - and we have learned that people whose wells were drilled fairly recently have no legal recourse if they were to lose them. We would then have no access to running water until the town extended water lines to us.

Then our water would likely be much more expensive. We know that the deep aquifer water is often highly mineralized and would require expensive treatment, the cost of which of course would be passed on to us. This would be a cultural as well as an economic impact to the area because many of the people whose families have been here for generations, who are already struggling to make ends meet, could be forced to leave if their water bills were significantly higher. They would most likely either be replaced by more affluent people moving in, or the property would be used as short-term rental to tourists which we are already seeing.

And, in fact, we do not need new water supply wells with such a large capacity. The town's existing wells with much smaller capacity are consistently meeting our current water needs, with the only disruptions due to mechanical problems, not lack of water. If some wells need to be moved due to impacts to the Taos Pueblo land, it should be possible to replace them with wells of similar capacity, sited to have a minimum impact to domestic wells.

My other concern is the impact of these wells to the acequias, which besides watering our crops and gardens, also serve a vital function to recharge the shallow aquifer in the Taos Valley. The model on which the Abeyta Settlement is based predicts that the ultimate impact of the "Mutual Benefits Projects" would be to lower the water table so much that the springs on which the mountain streams that water our valley and feed our acequias depend will dry up.

The Abeyta Settlement's answer to this is mitigation wells -- another series of wells into the deep aquifer which would pump water uphill into the streams or acequias near the base of the mountains. A major problem with this idea is that the high concentrations of minerals in this water would make it unfit to put into streams because of toxicity to fish and wildlife, as well being detrimental to continued agricultural use. The cost of the treatment that would be necessary is not covered under the Abeyta Settlement, and would have to be borne by mutual domestic water suppliers or acequia organizations that would be responsible for the wells.

Operation and maintenance of the pumps and treatment systems would also be so expensive that the acequia system as we know it could no longer exist. The cultural impact of this would be enormous - instead of having many small growers, continued agriculture in the Taos Valley would be limited to a few big operations if they could be profitable using the expensive treated water.

This would result in more and more former agricultural land being sold for new residential development, more descendants of the original families leaving the area and loss of the acequia community. Loss of irrigated agriculture would translate to loss of aquifer recharge. And even our deep aquifer, which is finite, would eventually be drained.

Rick Brown is secretary of the Green Party of Taos.

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