Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

High court ruling may affect water users

Signpost Staff

Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) can continue to issue domestic well drilling permits, but that once the well is drilled, the state has an obligation to curtail the pumping of water from that well if it reduces water supplies of neighbors with senior water rights.

Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson wrote in his opinion, “The entire phrase ‘priority of appropriation shall give the better right’ is meant to dictate how conflicts between water users can be resolved—by priority administration—in which junior users are cut off when necessary in favor of senior users.”

Legislation in the early 1950s gave the OSE authority to grant domestic well permits to all applicants without determining how pumping water from wells might affect neighbors. Since that time, New Mexico’s population and water usage has doubled, and water supplies have been severely impacted by the ongoing drought. Domestic well permits allow pumping even though all the water has already been allocated.

Legislation introduced this year by State Senator Peter Wirth allows the OSE to establish Domestic Well Management Areas where water consumption can be severely limited if deemed necessary to preserve senior rights. The court ruling confirms that this legislation can be imposed as necessary. The OSE has yet to established a Domestic Well Management Area.

For years, Lynn Montgomery, Mayordomo of the Rosa de Castilla Acequia, has warned that the day would come when senior rights holders could demand limits on domestic well pumping. He writes:

Peggy Johnson stated in her study that groundwater pumping threatens local springs, especially la Rosa de Castilla. Since a court in 1912 granted us all the flows from this spring, any drop in flows that can be linked to pumping, which we think is possible to ascertain, is impairment.

Our senior water rights are adjudicated. Anyone planning on drilling a new well of any sort should be very cautious. We can request the State Engineer to declare Placitas a special management area and actually manage things. Consequences will be: required tamper-proof flow meters on every well, data from the meters will be public, permitted pumping could be cut off or severely reduced at any time, and the well has to be completed before the State Engineer will make any determinations.

If the community comes together and makes regulation happen on its own by depending on things like water harvesting, not using groundwater except in the home or business, and doing radical conservation and reuse, we would have more security in our property values than presently. We would also better protect the environment and wildlife, as we would be protecting our surface flows.

Montgomery’s utopian solution might not fit in the world of “whiskey is for drinking—water is for fighting over.” Some people will not install meters and stop watering the lawn without a fight. Senior rights holders can play that way, too. Many individuals and entities, such as the Village water system—Acequias de Placitas—could file complaints with the OSE when spring and shallow wells fail while deeper and newer wells continue to produce. The problem is proving a direct relationship between phenomena hidden deep below ground in a court of law.

An article entitled “Well, Well” that appeared in the July 30 Issue of the Santa Fe Reporter quotes G. Emlen Hall, a professor emeritus at the UNM School of Law: “The real problem is: all the highest economic users are the most junior rights.” Think about a city like Albuquerque, with relatively recent population growth, versus a farmer whose family has been here since the 1600s: the farmer has priority, but the city might have a more pressing need to provide drinking water. “And so, when you talk about enforcing priority,” Hall continues, “you’re talking about alfalfa farmers and worse—in the view of modern economists—trying to shut down cities.”

The Albuquerque Journal printed an article by John Fleck entitled, “Ruling protects senor water rights” on July 26. D.L. Sanders, chief counsel to the Office of State Engineer, acknowledged that the state has never curtailed pumping by any of the state’s domestic well users. Sanders told Fleck in an interview that the high court ruling, along with a related Supreme Court ruling last year, clears the way for the state engineer to begin developing the tools needed to enforce prior appropriation. Sanders said he expects some water users to be back in court attempting to block the new water management rules.

“Within 18 months, we’ll all be back in court, because the rules we promulgate will be challenged by somebody,” Sanders said.

A wood chipping machine in action

Wood Chipper Day in Placitas

—Vicki Gottlieb, Firewise Placitas

Firewise Placitas is pleased to announce another Chipper Day at the Placitas Community Library, 453 Hwy 165, sponsored by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District on September 21, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Consider having a neighborhood Firewise clean up. Prune. Thin. Bring branches and small trees—no more than six inches diameter, ends aligned, and facing the same way with no construction waste or barbed wire. A donation of $15 dollars/pickup load is suggested. Wood chips can be kept for landscaping by people bringing wood slash for chipping or left for other residents to pick up with the following caveats: spread chips no deeper than two inches, at least three feet from any structure, and outside any tree drip lines. You can make a difference by helping us make Placitas fire-wise. Join us at our monthly gatherings between 10:00 a.m. to noon on September 12 and 26 in the upper room of the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church.

For more information, contact Vicki Gottlieb at or by calling 404-8022.

Placitas: On the Map

—Bob Gajkowski, Placitas History Project

The Placitas History Project (PHP) will present its latest exhibit—“Placitas: On the Map”—throughout the month of September at the Collin Meeting Room of the Placitas Community Library.

The greater Placitas area will be showcased in a series of original and reproductions of maps ranging from the 1600s to the present. These maps depict our area as seen and recorded by European explorers, military officers, and present-day travelers.

Highlights of the exhibit include two hand-drawn maps of the Placitas Village and a 1900-1901 U. S. Surveyor General’s survey of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant. Several colored reproductions drafted shortly after Spanish expeditions had moved north from Mexico City into Nuevo Mexico show Placitas as “las Huertas,” “Rosa de Castillo,” and even as “Tuert,” possibly a misspelling of “Huertas.” Prominent among these is the 1602 Enrico Martinez chart compiled for the Oñate Expedition.

Other varieties of maps and charts such as the 1804 Humbolt used by Zebulon Pike expedition and the three-dimensional 1956-2004 work by local resident Zoe Patterson will demonstrate the use of mapping to show population changes. Compiled from many sources, these indispensable tools of the pre-GPS age are works of art as well as important historical records of the Placitas area and its people.

The “Placitas: On the Map” exhibit opens on September 3 and continues through the end of the month. A reception, at which patrons will have the opportunity to discuss maps and their history, will be held on Saturday, September 7, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Scouts help restore trails, more

—Suzann Owings

“Over the summer we added three new boys to the Pack,” reports Cub Master David Gardner of Pack 708, “We’ll now be adding meetings at a third elementary school and continue recruiting this fall.”

Gardner reports that the the parents would like scout meetings after school at each of the three elementary schools—Bernalillo, Carroll, and Placitas. Additional leaders are needed to conduct these meetings. Feeding the homeless will be one of the service projects the scouts will participate in later in September. They also are planning a trail restoration project at the Sandia Mountain Retreat Campground and more cooking lessons. In October, look for your scouts as they sell popcorn and batteries to pay for registrations and summer day camp.

For further information, contact Tori Tafoya, 414-1885, or Snow Watson, 867-2047, liaison between Pack 708 and the Coronado Optimist Club, the Cub Scouts’ sponsoring organization.

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