A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
State Sponsors Workshop for Acequias Under Adjudication By Mark Schiller
Thoughts on the Summo Minerals 1995 Annual Report By Elizabeth Winter
Peñasco Area Acequia Federation By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Domestic Water Associations Meet By Mark Schiller
Truchas Land Grant Meets with Santa Fe National Forest to Discuss Land Claim and Management Policy Concerning Borrego Mesa
By Kay Matthews
Leonard Atencio, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor, and Lori Osterstock, Española District Ranger, met for two hours on December 18 with members of the Truchas Land Grant. The result of this meeting was a commitment on the part of the Forest Service to work with the grant to establish an interim management policy for the Borrego Mesa area until a long-standing dispute over its ownership is resolved.
To start the meeting, Max Córdova, explained the nature of the land dispute. In 1891 the United States Court of Private Land Claims officially recognized the validity of the Nuestra Senora del Rosario Land Grant (Truchas Land Grant), containing 14,786.58 acres of land, and issued a patent to the heir successors of the original claim. The described southern boundary was "the heights adjoining the said Pueblo Quemado river." The current boundary, recognized by the Forest Service, is the Rio Quemado itself. The area in dispute lies between the Rio Quemado and the Rio Medio, and is called Borrego Mesa. According to Córdova, the original grant of 20,000acres was reduced to the 14,786 by private land claims within the grant. Without the Borrego tract, the grant stands at about 8,000 acres. Jerry Fuentes, Secretary of the Truchas Land Grant, added that the Bureau of Land Management, after studying the disputed area, stated that neither the boundary fence nor the survey constitute a legitimate means for determining boundaries.
While both Atencio and Osterstock agreed that the dispute could not be resolved at this meeting, they did agree to begin the process whereby both sides would conduct a search of all pertinent boundary documents and formally present them to each other. Atencio also stated that any resolution will probably require Congressional action. Rueben Montes, a representative from Senator Pete Domenici's office was at the meeting, and he stated that he would stay involved in the process and make sure that the senator reviews both the Forest Service and land grant documents.
Córdova then asked what could be done in the short term to address the resource depletion occurring on Borrego Mesa. The area was the site of a controversy over commercial versus firewood harvesting this fall (see November issue of La Jicarita), and the land grant has charged the Forest Service with poor management policies, including clearcutting. Atencio responded by saying that the Forest Service was willing to stop all activities on Borrego Mesa until everyone could agree upon what management policies were needed in the area. Osterstock said that the last large timber sale in the area should not have been released, but she cautioned that the Forest Service does not have the authority to close the area to everyone except land grant members. She also asked that the land grant decide upon a definition of what it means by "commercial" if it asks the Forest
Service for a moratorium on commercial activities. "If you sell a load of firewood to your neighbor, that means commercial to the Forest Service," Osterstock said.
Atencio instructed Osterstock to take the lead in working on a joint management plan, by means of a special use permit, a stewardship contract, or any other appropriate process, and meet again with land grant members early in 1997. Córdova cautioned that the grant's participation in a joint management situation does not mean that it recognizes Forest Service ownership, and also requested that Santa Fe National Forest agree to incorporate the 1972 Region Three Management Policy, which recognizes the uniqueness of the communities of northern New Mexico, and the importance of contributing to their economic advancement.
Atencio also committed Santa Fe National Forest to providing "better customer service" to the people of northern New Mexico by preparing to meet 1997 needs now. Bill Armstrong, Forest Service timber specialist, was also at the meeting and gave a report on the information the Forest Service has been gathering with regard to Borrego Mesa fuelwood resources. According to Armstrong, there are approximately 5,000 to 6,000 cords of firewood&emdash;small diameter ponderosa accessible by existing roads&emdash;available on Borrego Mesa. Osterstock reiterated that a joint management policy should be flexible, if commercial sales are needed to generate more fuelwood (there was some criticism from land grant members that oftentimes the commercial operator fails to leave any so-called slash for firewood gathering). But she agreed to work with the grant on a better tagging system and to research grant monies available for stewardship programs. Atencio also agreed to try to establish a more consistent Forest Service policy by working closely with Carson National Forest, and agreed to sponsor a meeting with land grant, Carson National Forest, and BLM representatives, sometime in February.
By Mark Schiller
On Saturday, January 11, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture sponsored a workshop for acequia associations under adjudication. This was the first time that these associations had all been brought together to discuss their experiences with the adjudication process and plot strategies to resolve problems they have encountered along the way. Representatives from associations throughout Taos and Rio Arriba counties met with water experts David Benavides, Fred Waltz, Peter White, and Michael Meyer to discuss topics such as: What is an Adjudication?; Stages of Adjudication; Research Preparation for Adjudication; and What Acequias Will Need to do Together for the Future.
One of the main points that all these experts mentioned was that the laws governing our adjudications are completely different from the Spanish and Mexican laws which acequias have traditionally used. The notion of priority, for instance, asserts that in times of shortage the acequia with the longest history of water use is entitled to all of its water before acequias with shorter histories are entitled to any. This idea was first applied in U. S. law during the gold rush in California to protect water for mining claims. Spanish and Mexican law, on the other hand, has always allowed for a more egalitarian distribution of water when there are conflicting needs. Taos lawyer Fred Waltz explained to the parciantes that the courts have become slightly more sensitive to tradition and culture in water use, but still have a long way to go. He asserted that the adjudication process has been the source of great divisiveness in communities where it has pitted one acequia against another, and the Hispanic and Anglo communities against the Native American pueblos. The problem of Native American water rights has been further complicated by the fact that their rights must be adjudicated in federal court where federal laws do not take into account any of the traditions and customs so long in practice in New Mexico. Hispanic and Anglo water rights are adjudicated in state courts. Some of the oldest cases in federal court are Native American water adjudications, and this important issue still remains unresolved.
All of these experts agreed that it is vital for acequias and communities to take a united stand during the adjudication process. They also urged parciantes to share historical research concerning priority dates among themselves and do as much as possible to educate their communities about adjudication. La Jicarita will do a follow up article on researching the history of acequias in an upcoming issue.
By Elizabeth Winter
Summo Minerals is a start-up Canadian company which engages exclusively in copper mining in the United States, via one wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of the same name. According to their 1995 Annual Report, they plan to start an open pit mine in the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed in 1999. The proposed site is the old Champion Mine, upstream from Dixon and upwind from Picuris Pueblo. The mining claims cover 5000+ acres&emdash;over eight square miles. Claims reach more than two miles from the Champion site to a feature called Copper Ridge on USGS maps. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the company intends to mine Copper Ridge, too. Why else would those claims have been filed?
Summo claims 95% yield of 0.37% ore; or 7 pounds of copper per ton of ore. At that rate, about 3-4 million tons of ore annually will be needed to produce the 20-30 million pounds of copper projected. At 35 pounds of acid per ton of ore, that's 50-75,000 tons of acid&emdash;between 130-200 tons of acid each and every day.
If the copper content is too low, mined rocks are discarded as waste rock. Blasting and crushing expose much rock surface, not unlike when coffee beans are ground. Any minerals containing sulphur react with air and water to form sulphuric acid, the same substance used to dissolve copper (and other metals) from the processed ore in the heap leach process. Acid-loving bacteria accelerate the process. The acidic, metal-rich water which percolates through the waste rock is known as acid mine drainage, as is leakage from the heap leach pile.
Surface drainage would flow down the arroyo which empties into the Rio Embudo just upstream from Dixon. Since the mine site is situated between deep canyons of the Rio Grande and Rio Embudo, contaminated ground water would eventually emerge in springs along the two rivers. This could take several years to become evident, and last long after the jobs are gone.
As a case in point, consider the fate Conejos County farmers in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, downstream from the abandoned Summitville Mine. There were about 150 jobs for 8 years before that mine's Canadian-based owners filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s rather than increase their clean-up bond to $7 million. Over $120 million of taxpayer money has been spent to date on clean-up&emdash;over $100,000 for each year one person had a job. And the mess has yet to be contained. Downstream irrigators are stuck with acidified, contaminated water over a wider and wider area as buffering capacities are exhausted. Their expensive center-pivot irrigation systems corrode and culverts dissolve over time. Many miles of Alamosa Creek, once excellent for fishing, are now, for all intents and purposes, biologically dead. Trout can no longer survive in the waters.
Summo's stock lost more than half its value in 1996; this is in marked contrast to stocks overall, which gained about 25% during the same period. In other words, Summo's financial position is not strong. The company should be required to post a large bond before commencing any mining operation.
Water consumption figures are rather indefinite. Water issues are not mentioned in the Annual Report. According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, copper mining uses about 200 gallons of water per ton of ore (GPT). Summo's CEO suggests 300 gallons per minute (484 acre feet), or 37-55 GPT. At the industry average GPT of 20, and the high-end projected annual production of 30 million pounds of copper, water use would be over 2600 acre feet annually.
Summo proposes to pump ground water, so there will be a delay, probably of years, until the full effect on springs and streamflows can be determined&emdash;impacts on both water quantity and water quality. Because of the delay due to groundwater travel time, ceasing mining operations in a low water year couldn't deliver relief for other water users with senior water rights, or for aquatic ecosystems. Summo's claims that it can reliably predict the limits of impacts of its planned operations must be taken with a healthy dose of salt unless these claims are backed by a rigorous multi-year program of monitoring and study. Claims that there will be no discharges of contaminated water (or of dust), and no impacts on streamflows or other water users from Dixon, New Mexico to Browns-ville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico are simply preposterous. They should be treated as such.
This article is supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Picuris Pueblo.
What's Happening in the Rest of New Mexico: Roundtable Discussion Hopes to Tear Down Fences Between Norteños, Environmentalists, and Forest Service
By Kay Matthews
A new year, all-day meeting in Santa Fe brought together representatives of three northern New Mexico groups&emdash;norteños, environmentalists, and the Forest Service&emdash;to try to replace argument and accusation with dialogue and trust. Although the press was not invited to the gathering, La Jicarita spoke with various attendants for their assessments of the meeting.
Santiago Juarez, a long-time community activist, currently affiliated with Revisioning New Mexico, was the principle organizer of the meeting, and he came away with renewed hope and optimism. "It says something that at the end of the day both John and Charlotte Talberth [of Forest Guardians] came up and hugged me." The day began in small group sessions, including a representative from each of the three groups, as well as a facilitator. Juarez said he was allowed to float around and sit in on all the small group discussions, and was encouraged by what he saw and heard. "I purposely put John Talberth and Ike DeVargas [of La Companía Ocho] in the same group, and from what I observed, they actually listened to one another."
Chellis Glendinning reported that her group, comprised of Tony Povilitis, facilitator, Don Case of Carson National Forest, Charlotte Talberth of Forest Guardians, Max Córdova of the Truchas Land Grant, and Gavin Kuykendall, a logger from Tres Piedras, also managed to keep the lines of communication open, and she came away from her session with the impression that each person was working in good faith to resolve the differences that have long divided the three groups. However, after these small groups broke up and Glendinning was assigned to attend a larger grouping of all the environmentalists, she said she felt that some of the openness and trust that had been previously expressed was lost in this more isolated arena. She felt that the core group of environmentalists, who have been involved in most of the litigious and controversial dealings with norteños, tended to dominate the meeting.
George Grossman of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, concurred with Glendinning. : "My small group included Bill deBuys, the Forest Service District Ranger from Pecos, and Randy Schofield, a rancher from Tres Piedras, who voluntarily moved a good portion of his cattle off their grazing lands last year due to the drought. There wasn't much controversy anywhere except where Sam Hitt and John Talberth were. Sam kept talking about weatherizing homes in Truchas, which I didn't think was relevant to the discussion, and John kept talking about the sorry state of the forests in New Mexico, which I think is overstated. A percentage of the La Manga sale has been set aside as old growth, and we're only talking about an area of 5% where there are some big trees that will be cut. While I think Sam Hitt has been right about a lot of the issues over the years, I don't know why he's making such a fuss about these sales."
John Talberth felt the reason there "wasn't much controversy" was because of the under representation at the meeting of "environmentalists who are willing to go out and speak and be activists." He said that Sam Hitt has compiled a list of environmentalists they feel should be invited to the next roundtable. Talberth felt that this first meeting was a useful dialogue, "as it is always helpful to have people on different sides of an issue meet face to face to humanize the process and build a political base." But he added that unless future forums address the basic issue of the "cessation of ecologically destructive practices", in his estimation, there can be no common agenda.
The next roundtable has been tentatively scheduled for February 6.
The next meeting of the Peñasco Area Acequia Federation will be held on Saturday, February 15 at 1:00 p. m. at the old bank building in Peñasco. Representatives of all Peñasco valley acequia associations are urged to attend; a vote will be taken to see if 51% or more of the area acequias want to formalize the Federation as the umbrella group for all the acequia associations.
Peñasco Valley domestic water associations will meet on Monday, February 10, at 7 p. m. at the old bank building in Peñasco to continue with their efforts to organize the Santa Barbara and Rio Pueblo Regional Water and Waste Water Association. Everyone is welcome to attend.
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
A standing-room only crowd filled the old bank building in Peñasco on January 11 for the latest meeting of the Peñasco Area Acequia Federation. David Benavides, water law expert with Northern New Mexico Legal Services, was full of praise for the group's organizational efforts. He emphasized the importance of local acequias getting together to protect their water rights against developers who may be looking to the north for water to facilitate their plans.
Benavides provided a brief overview of the adjudication process and then addressed other pressing water issues such as acequia registration, instream flow, Native American water rights, and water banking. "It's probably safe to say that the Peñasco area will not be adjudicated before the year 2000," Benavides said, "but the important thing is to keep exercising your water rights by irrigating as much of your irrigable property as possible." He also mentioned that there are several other things parciantes can do to prepare for adjudication. These include researching the history of the acequias and mapping irrigable land within your ditch association.
Benavides addressed the question of unregistered water rights by reassuring parciantes that unless their warrantee deeds stipulate that water rights have been retained by the previous owner, those rights automatically remain with the purchased land. He did point out, however, that those people who have purchased land after 1991 need to fill out a Change of Ownership form with the Office of the State Engineer (SEO) to secure their water rights. He also said that while it's not absolutely necessary to file a declaration with the SEO, it may prove to be advantageous during the adjudication process. He cautioned parciantes not to declare a priority date, however, until all of the historical research of their acequias has been completed.
Benavides then defined the concept of instream flow, which other states have already addressed by law. Instream flow provides for water rights holders who do not want to divert their water for agricultural or commercial purposes, but want it to remain in the stream for wildlife habitat and riparian conservation. So far, only the U. S. government has exercised this option, but Benavides explained that an individual or foundation with water rights could also do so. Under Steve Reynolds long tenure as State Engineer, New Mexico did not recognize the concept of instream flow, but there is more acceptance now. In years of water shortage, a conflict could arise between acequia users and water rights holders who want their apportioned water to remain in the stream. In New Mexico, only streams with a history of abundant water and with water rights which predate rights which could be used for instream flow have adopted instream flow regulations.
Concerning Native American water rights, Benavides stressed the importance of establishing a good relationship between the pueblos and Hispanic and Anglo communities. "There is a long history of cooperation between pueblos and Hispanics in New Mexico," Benavides said, "and it's critical that these communities not allow the adjudication process to pit them against one another." The biggest difference between Native American water rights and all others is that the federal government recognizes the pueblos' right to expand their water use as their population increases; all other water rights are limited by state regulations drafted in 1907. As of that date, all waters had already been apportioned. Benavides mentioned the long standing water rights battle in Nambe and Pojoaque, and cautioned that here in the Peñasco area parciantes need to work together with Picuris Pueblo before the adjudication process begins.
Benavides then addressed the relatively new concept of water conservation, or water banking. Through this process acequia associations can preserve waters rights that are not being put to beneficial use either because the owner is unable to irrigate, or lands that were formally irrigated have structures, roads, or fences which prevent irrigation. These rights can be temporarily or permanently given to the association, which can then use them either to irrigate previously unirrigated land adjacent to the acequia or lease them to other associations within the community. The Taos Valley Acequia Association is currently implementing a water banking program which can serve as a model for other associations.
In answer to a question from Chamisal parciantes, Benavides expressed his support of the concept of community ownership of water rights as opposed to individually owned water rights. Traditional Spanish-Mexican law recognized community ownership of water rights, and it was only under American law that the idea of individual ownership arose. Benavides told the group that he would be interested in working with acequias that want to draft regulations that would declare their water rights communal. "Privatizing water rights was one of the most harmful things that ever happened in our communities," Benavides said.
The Peñasco Area Acequia Federation will be sending out notices to all mayordomos and commissioners of area acequias regarding the next meeting, scheduled for February 15 at 1:00 p.m. at the old bank building in Peñasco. A vote will be taken at this meeting to see if 51% or more of the area acequias want to formalize the Federation as the umbrella group for all the acequia associations.
For more information, contact Mark Schiller at 689-2200 or Verna Gurulé at 587-2528.
The Camino Real Ranger District has made the decision to proceed with a salvage sale of approximately 40 thousand board feet (mbf) of burned timber from the Trampas Wildfire for both sawtimber and fuelwood. The sale is approximately 150 acres in size, limited to the terrain of less than 15% slope. Only dead standing trees will be salvaged, and two to five burned trees per acre will be left as snags for wildlife habitat. Only existing roads will be used as access, and all roads and skid trails with the exception of Forest Road 710 will be ripped, "waterbarred", and seeded with native species once the project is completed.
According to Henry Lopez, Forestry Technician at the Camino Real, 22 mbf of the sale (trees nine to 18 inches in diameter) will be put up for bid at the end of January if the sale decision is not appealed. Lopez said the sale would be appropriate for one of the small, local operators, and because the district has not let many salvage sales in the past, he is curious to see who is interested in the sawtimber.
The remaining timber, approximately 20 mbf, will be sold as firewood, also immediately after the appeal period ends. While Lopez would like to see the sawtimber taken out of the area first, he said that if there is an immediate need for fuelwood, he will open that part of the area at the end of January as well. If the ground stays frozen, people will be able to enter the sale, but a thaw will probably prevent access. The fuelwood and sawtimber areas are divided by a drainage (the fuelwood area is closer to the highway), and if the sale is opened to both commercial and fuelwood use at the same time, hopefully the two won't conflict. Lopez is asking that people respect the yellow markings on trees reserving them as snags. The district has yet to decide whether fuelwood permits will be issued for free or for a minimum charge.
By Mark Schiller
The Santa Barbara and Rio Pueblo Regional Water and Waste Water Association met on January 9 to discuss a letter Marcel Torres, president of the Rodarte Domestic Water Association, had written to northern New Mexico state legislators. The letter outlines some of the water quality problems facing our communities and asks the legislature to allocate $150,000 for a feasibility study and phase-one design plan. The problems discussed center around local communities' inability to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and the new Picuris water quality standards because of inadequate septic tanks and leach fields. The letter was endorsed by the domestic water associations in Rodarte, Rio Lucio, Peñasco, Chamisal, Llano San Juan, and Vadito. Representatives from Llano Largo, Picuris Pueblo, and the Forest Service also signed on.
The Association hopes to establish a link between domestic water associations in all these communities and plan and implement a series of wastewater treatment plants that could serve the members of these communities. Torres emphasized the need to take action now to protect both the quality and quantity of this precious resource in the future. He also stated that state legislators Carlos Cisneros and Bobby Gonzales, as well as County Manager Sammy Montoya, have voiced strong support for this program, but it is critical that community members demonstrate their support within their own domestic water associations.
Picuris Pueblo has applied for a grant to supplement this study from the Indian Affairs Committee, and La Jicarita Enterprise Community has stated that it will apply for funding for implementation of the plan from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Representatives from the New Mexico Rural Water Association have also pledged their support.
Several communities which do not as yet have domestic water associations have also shown an interest in the project. In order to help them in their organizational efforts, Verna Gurulé distributed samples of other associations by-laws, articles of incorporation, and rules and regulations. The next meeting of this organization is scheduled for Monday, February 10 at 7 p. m. at the old bank building in Peñasco. Anyone seeking additional information can contact Marcel Torres at 587-2465 or Verna Gurulé at 587-2528.
After more than a year's delay, the New Mexico Environment Department's $250,000 grant to study the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed has been approved. The new project director, Peter Wilkinson, who replaced Steve Huckett, author of the original grant proposal, has scheduled a meeting on Wednesday, February 5, at 7 p. m. at the Embudo Valley Library in Dixon. Wilkinson has asked that those people who have specific areas of concern about water quality attend the meeting. "Not all of the grant money will be available for on-the-ground work," Wilkinson stated, "so we need community people to help us establish a list of priority projects within the watershed." Wilkinson will also schedule a river tour with members of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition and other concerned citizens as part of the process to identify problems. Additional public meetings will be held to keep the public informed when decisions must be made about specific projects.
In November the Taos County Commission denied appeals of Taos Planning Commission's approval of Taos Hospital's plan to open a health clinic in Peñasco. The commission did, however, make provision for the establishment of an advisory board. Lloyd Bolander, president of the Peñasco Area Communities Association, has asked that two members of the Peñasco community volunteer to serve on this advisory board. If anyone is interested, they can contact him at 587-2240. La Jicarita will write more extensively on this topic in the February issue.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.