Augustin Plains Ranch files appeal

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A partnership that wants to pump groundwater from its high desert ranch in west-central New Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley went to court Monday to appeal a state decision to deny its water rights application.

“We believe this is a great project that deserves a hearing,” said Tom Carroll, spokesman for Augustin Plains Ranch LLC, in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “We would like to go forward and make our case to the state that we can deliver a large volume of new water in a sustainable manner, with no impairment to the ranchers in the area.”

New Mexico State Engineer Scott Verhines late last month turned down the Augustin Plains Ranch’s proposal to pump 54,000 acre feet of water per year — an amount equivalent to the Albuquerque metro area’s entire annual municipal and industrial water consumption. Verhines ruled the project violates state water law by not specifying where the water will go and who will use it.

The Augustin Ranch partnership’s proposal is one example of a trend in water supply management in the western United States, pumping groundwater from rural areas to population centers to meet growing demand, and it has drawn similar controversy.

In Nevada, water agencies in the Las Vegas area have proposed a major pipeline from rural northeast Nevada to meet the city’s long term needs. In California, a Mojave Desert ranch owner has proposed pumping groundwater for use in cities on Southern California’s coastal plains.

In all three cases, the proposals have run into the same complaint — that pumping water would hurt the rural areas that are losing the water supplies.

In New Mexico, however, Verhines appeared to short circuit that argument, saying that by not specifying the place or purpose of use, the application violates state water law. The Augustin Ranch partnership says that in general the water would be piped to the Rio Grande Valley for use there, but the partnership refuses to name any specific users.

His ruling had the effect of throwing out the case before the state even considered complaints of Datil area ranchers that the proposal would deplete the area’s aquifer and threaten their water supplies.

Now the Ranch’s owners are asking a state district court to overrule him and give them another chance to make their case that their project can benefit the water-short Rio Grande Valley without harming the Datil-area ranchers.

Bruce Frederick, the attorney for many of the area residents fighting the project, said the court should throw out the Ranch owners’ appeal. “I am not surprised,” he said, “however I think the appeal has no merit and should be dismissed.”

 

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