Water war brewing between Texas and New Mexico

The State of Texas today filed a complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to command New Mexico to deliver water apportioned to Texas under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact.

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Jan. 08, 2013 -- The State of Texas today filed a complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to command New Mexico to deliver water apportioned to Texas under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact between the states of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado to divide the waters of the Rio Grande.

“It is unfortunate that we have had to resort to legal action, but negotiations with New Mexico have been unsuccessful, and Texas is not getting the water that it is allocated and legally entitled to,” said TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein.

Because of New Mexico's ongoing litigation to avoid its water obligation, Texas finally felt compelled to act to protect its rights to the water legally apportioned to it.

"The State of New Mexico is currently in active litigation in both state and federal courts in New Mexico in an attempt to circumvent the Rio Grande Compact and the operation by the United States of the Rio Grande Project," Rubinstein said. "The complaint filed today by the State of Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court is not intended to adversely impact the State of New Mexico’s right to allocate its water resources, but is focused on protecting the rights of Texas to Rio Grande water under the 1938 Compact through the operation of the Rio Grande Project. By ignoring the compact, New Mexico is already causing harm to water users in Texas, and it will only get worse in the future unless something is done now."

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"These illegal diversions of water in New Mexico are having an ongoing negative effect on the amount of water available for use by Texas farmers," said Pat Gordon, Rio Grande Compact Commissioner. "The city of El Paso also counts on Texas’ water allocation for half of its water supply. Our attempts to negotiate a resolution with the State of New Mexico were not successful and only resulted in New Mexico initiating very aggressive litigation aimed at capturing water that belongs to the Rio Grande Project and the State of Texas. Our dispute is not with New Mexico farmers who are part of the Rio Grande Project. Texas had no choice but to take action against the State of New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court to protect its rights under the 1938 Compact."

This is a complex legal action, but key points include:

• Historically, water apportioned under the Rio Grande Compact has resulted in approximately 57 percent of the water supply below the Elephant Butte Reservoir being delivered to New Mexico, and 43 percent being delivered across the New Mexico-Texas state line for Texas.

• The State of New Mexico has allowed a reduction of Texas’ water supplies and the apportionment of water it is entitled to under the Rio Grande Compact. New Mexico is illegally allowing diversions of both surface and underground water hydrologically connected to the Rio Grande downstream of Elephant Butte Reservoir. These extractions of water through 2011 have amounted to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of acre-feet annually. The illegal diversion of this water is negatively impacting water flows in the river, taking water that is released for the Rio Grande Project beneficiaries, including the State of Texas. Essentially, New Mexico is delivering water to Texas at Elephant Butte Reservoir and then re-diverting Texas’ water below the reservoir as it is being released to Texas.

• Grave and irreparable injury has occurred and will be suffered in the future by Texas and its citizens unless relief is afforded by the court to prevent New Mexico from using and withholding water which Texas is entitled to, and which New Mexico is obligated to deliver, under the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project Act.

• The State of Texas is requesting no action from the State of Colorado. They are included only because they are a signatory to the compact.

The U.S. Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction of this suit. The complaint can be seen here.

If it accepts the case, the court has in similar cases appointed a special master to hear the case.


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