Both parties claimed victory Thursday in a case before Seventh District Judge Matthew Reynolds.
Augustin Plains Ranch LLC had asked Reynolds to reconsider his decision to support the state engineer’s denial of an application it filed to mine water from its property, encompassing 18,000 acres in Catron and Socorro Counties.
The current application states that Augustin Plains Ranch seeks to appropriate groundwater – 54,000 acre feet per year – for “municipal, industrial, commercial, offset of surface water depletions, replacement, sale, and/or leasing purposes.”
Reynolds rejected Augustin Plains’ arguments to “dismiss and remand to the state engineer” the application, saying that since the Court of Appeals dismissed its appeal, “my previous decision is as good as when I found it.”
The Court of Appeals had dismissed the ranch’s appeal of Reynolds’ decision in January of this year.
The attorney for the Ranch, Jeffrey Wechsler, told Reynolds the request came down to a “housekeeping matter” that would simply clear the case off the books.
Attorneys representing Cuchillo Valley Community Ditch Association and Kokopelli Ranch LLC argued that since the Court of Appeals sent the case back to Reynolds, Reynolds decision to deny the appeal was still valid.
“Dismissal of the appeal by the Court of Appeals would make the previous decision valid,” Reynolds acknowledged, and denied the request by Augustin Plains Ranch to dismiss and remand.
Among the 100 or so who filled the courtroom was New Mexico Speaker of the House and 49th District Rep. Don Tripp who, as a member of the Water & Natural Resources Committee, said he has closely followed the permitting process since 2007.
“This process takes a long time, and we will need to stay vigilant in our efforts to oppose the water grab,” Tripp said. “I'm sure there will be many more attempts to gain access to the unappropriated water on the plains by many different parties.”
He said it was possible that the ranch asked for the hearing to avoid having a black mark on its record.
Whitney Waite, spokesperson for San Augustin Ranch, said the decision cleared the way for the company to proceed with its application.
“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision today. We were seeking clarity in the application process, and that’s what we received,” Waite said in a telephone interview. “The judge has paved the way for the state engineer to move forward in considering the second application.”
Reynolds, before making his decision made one final comment.
“What a tangled web we weave, when at first we…practice water law,” he said.