Hi water geeks:
It was a packed Room 303 at the Roundhouse last Weds for the adjudication subcommittee of the Water and Natural Resources Committee. I apologize for the delay in telling those of you who missed it what happened. If people would stop making news I would have more time to update this blog.
So the 45 people who showed up (not including this reporter and the committee members) ran the gamut from water attorneys to AARP members. Acequia reps, a farmer or two, Bill Hume from the gov's office, and more were in attendance. The committee seemed a little surprised (and pleased?) by what was obvious interest in adjudications.
In a nutshell, here's a few things discussed:
1. Judge Gerald Valentine, the water judge out of district court in Las Cruces handling the Lower RG adjudication, has a few suggestions for changing the process. These suggestions would be up to the legislature to adopt and Valentine said it won't likely impact the Lower RG case at all. What it could impact is the last gigantic water rights adjudication left for the state to tackle: the Middle Rio Grande which encompasses Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Soccorro and thousands of farmers in the conservancy district.
a. "For water rights that were vested before permits were required, make the declaration statute mandatory instead of permissive, setting a deadline but allowing a reasonable time to file the declarations." In other words, require people who own pre-1907 water rights to declare those rights with the state engineer, which might be as simple as calling up the office, giving their name, address, and how much water rights they believe they own.
b. "Establish a deadline for water right owners to apply for a license and require claimants to provide the State Engineer information similar to that required for declarations for pre-permit water rights." In other words, post-1907 water rights holders would need to make sure they applied for a license - which is the next step after a permit. A permit lets a person put in water works and start using water. A license is when the SEO determines the water has been put to beneficial use and for how much af.
c. "Adopt a new statute similar to Montana so that a clear record of transfers of water rights with real property can be obtained."
The difficulty is that often now changes of water rights ownership are filed with the state engineer but not with the county. Since water is a property right, any changes should be recorded with the county just like land.
d. "Provide Legislative funding for counties to put the deed records on line."
Yep - the money issue.
Valentine did a stupendous job of attempting to explain in layman's terms his understanding of NM water law. Greg Ridgley of the SEO office helped with defining the diff between a permit, declaration and a license. (Which goes to show that after decades of haggling over water rights adjudications, its impossible to get anything through the legislature if they really don't yet understand the language.)
2. Ridgely on behalf of the SEO:
The governor is still reviewing a proposal from the state engineer's office. The proposal compliments one of Judge Valentine's suggestions but has to do with the SEO's administrative responsibilities.
Their proposal: make it "routine practice" for the SEO to license water rights "as was originally intended by the 1907 water code."
This routine licensing should "facilitiate and compliment" but NOT replace adjudication. A water license details the priority date, amount, purpose, periods and place of use, and if for irrigation, which lands will be irrigated.
Within 30 days after a water license is final, the state engineer would issue a "certificate of marketability" according to the proposal.
A lot of discussion centered around the problems with hydrographic surveys. The problem is by the time everyone in an adjudication files their claim, an original hydrographic survey info can be stale. Aerial photography and GPS may resolve some of those issues.
We'll know more about what, if any, proposed legislation will come out of the suggestions. The primary aim here is to figure out how to keep the MRG adjudication from becoming a half century, money sucking monster by the time it is filed.
In other news, the Senate is scheduled to go into a lame duck session around Nov. 17. On their list, an omnibus land management bill (S.3213) that includes the Navajo water rights settlement among other issues.
For an interesting story on water dowsers, check out the NY Times: