A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Editorial By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Local Acequias Set up Water Banking Program By Kay Matthews
Land grant activists from all over New Mexico gathered to support a bill introduced by Representative Ben Lujan to establish a state land grant department. Participants included Manuel Trujillo, Santiago Juarez, Estevan Lopez, Bill Redmond, Virgil Trujillo, and Roberto Mondragon.
Picuris Pueblo, in conjunction with Amigos Bravos and the Mineral Policy Center in Durango, is sponsoring a Groundwater Hydrology and Contaminant Transport course on April 6-8, 1999 at the Holiday Inn Don Fernando in Taos. The course is free and geared toward state, federal and tribal employees, as well as citizens working on groundwater issues. The instructors will be hydrologists Michael Wireman and Rich Muza of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 Mine Waste Group. The agenda includes discussion of basic principles of groundwater occurrence and flow; aquifer testing; sources and types of groundwater contaminants; groundwater monitoring; groundwater biology and pollutant biodegradation; groundwater metals; and groundwater remediation. Please contact Elizabeth Winter at Picuris Pueblo for more information: P. O. Box 127, Peñasco, NM 87553, 505 587-0110, fax 505 587-1071.
The El Rito District of Carson National Forest has just released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Agua/Caballos Projects in the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit. The units within the project total 23,767 acres of the 73,400 Sustained Yield Unit. A first DEIS was issued in 1995, and this second DEIS has been formulated to address both lawsuits and forest plan amendments that have occurred since 1995. A coalition of norteños and environmentalists plans to work with the Forerst Service to come up with the best possible prescription for the proposed timber sale. For more information or to get a copy of the DEIS, call Kurt Winchester at El Rito RD, 581-4554.
A pre-hearing for the application by the County of Santa Fe to transfer groundwater rights from Top of the World Farms will be held March 4 at 9:30 a.m. in room 2027 of the new State Library, 1205 Camino Carlos Rey, Santa Fe. Nineteen individuals and groups protested this application, and with the help of the New Mexico Acequia Association, many of them have joined together and will be represented at the pre-hearing by water rights attorneys Peter White and Doug Wolf.
We received the following letter from the Northern Research Group, Inc. in Las Vegas, New Mexico, regarding last month's Puntos de Vista by Paula Garcia
Dear Ms. Garcia,
We read your article in the February 1999 issue of La Jicarita with great interest. It is the clearest delineation we have seen on the underlying bases of the conflict over forest and water use in northern New Mexico. Your article has captured the truth of the situation brilliantly.
Thank you and our best wishes to you and the work of the New Mexico Acequia Association.
Gabino Rendón, Applied Research Sociologist
Susan Swan, Anthropologist/Archaeologist
By Mark Schiller
Once again Picuris Pueblo has taken the lead in opposing a mining operation which threatens La Jicarita watershed. On February 17 newly elected Pueblo Governor Red Eagle Rael convened a press conference to announce the Pueblo's intent to sue Franklin Industrial Minerals (FIM) and New Mexico Mining and Mineral Division (MMD) for violating the state's mining act. As reported in the January issue of La Jicarita, MMD, in December, approved the expansion and reclamation plan of FIM, which calls for its mining pit to increase in size from 5.7 acres to over 63 acres and reach a depth of 440 feet.
The mine is located on former Pueblo grant lands and includes historically and culturally important sites, most notably a centuries' old micaceous clay pit, which the mining operation has already destroyed. During his presentation, Governor Rael explained that Pueblo potters have been forced to "scrounge" for clay to make the pots for which Picuris Pueblo has long been famous. "To us, this is not just an insult, but a direct attack," he said. The governor also stated that the company's reclamation plan falls far short of actually reclaiming the area for wildlife habitat as the plan intends. The pit's sheer walls of 45 degrees or more " . . . will not provide habitat for animals which the mining operation is already displacing. In fact, the pit will be a threat to humans." In addition, the expansion will mean a dramatic increase in 18-wheeler traffic through the watershed's many small communities. The governor said that many of these trucks already exceed the highway's weight limits and has put tribal police on the alert to monitor ore trucks which are overloaded or speeding.
The governor stated that Pueblo leaders are not interested in reaching a compromise settlement with the mining company and would like to see the mine closed and the area restored to its original condition. Doug Wolf of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, David Gomez of the Western Environmental Law Center, and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, represent the Pueblo in this action, which is also supported by Amigos Bravos, the Sierra Club, Taos/Rio Arriba Mining Reform Alliance, and the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition.
In a related matter, Governor Rael sent a letter to Forest Service District Ranger Crockett Dumas claiming FIM is not in compliance with Dumas's October 21 decision to approve FIM's 1.36 acre trespass on Forest Service land for the purpose of load-grade ore storage. The letter states that Forest Service approval is subject to the company submitting " . . . a new and comprehensive operating plan for all anticipated mining activities on national forest system lands, including the low-grade stockpile . . ." As La Jicarita pointed out in its January article, the expansion plan and reclamation plan approved by MMD only includes room for about one-sixth of the low-grade ore and waste rock the expansion will generate. FIM's original plan, which was withdrawn, called for an expansion onto 200 acres of Forest Service land for this purpose. Such a proposal would trigger a Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment, and be subject to public review under National Environmental Policy Act regulations.
Governor Rael's letter points out that FIM's own lawyers, in a November 16, 1998 letter, state that Dumas's decision about the trespass is approved " . . . so long as Franklin submitted a new operating plan for all anticipated mining on National Forest land as part of the Mine Closeout and Reclamation Plan . . . ." Because the mine closeout plan, which MMD approved in December, is "incomprehensible" without expansion onto Forest Service land, the Pueblo and its lawyers claim FIM must submit a plan which includes the expansion onto Forest Service land. Elizabeth Winter, of the Pueblo's Environment Department, also pointed out that the Forest Service is mandated to keep lands under their jurisdiction in "multiple use" and that the mining operation would destroy the possibility of these lands being used for anything else in the future.
La Jicarita called District Ranger Dumas for a comment on the Picuris letter, and he responded that the Forest Service has never received a proposal from FIM for any use of Forest Service land aside from the 1.36 acres on which it is already operating. When asked why he is not taking into consideration "anticipated" expansion onto Forest Service land outlined in the original expansion and reclamation plan, which was withdrawn, Dumas claimed he had never seen the document and "didn't have a crystal ball with which to anticipate FIM's plans."
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
As readers of this month's La Jicarita can see, the acequia community of northern New Mexico has lately had its hands full dealing with proposed water legislation and numerous court battles. While there have been a few victories, the threats to community and individual water rights continue as cities, developers, industry, and the federal government look to el norte for their water fix. Most alarming of several pending water transfer applications is the Top of the World transfer mentioned on page 2.
In December of 1997 Santa Fe County submitted an application to the State Engineer's Office (SEO) to transfer 600 acre feet of water rights on the Rio Grande to San Ildefonso Pueblo, above the Otowi Gauge. These water rights are groundwater rights, diverted through wells on the Top of the World Farms, near Sunshine Valley on the New Mexico-Colorado border. The ranch adjoins the Rio Grande, and the application claims a direct connection between the groundwater and the river. By retiring these groundwater rights the county claims that the Rio Grande would have increased flows above its diversion.
To divert these rights to the county, the application seeks to exploit a loophole in the Rio Grande Compact, which prohibits water transfers from above the Otowi Gauge - just south of Española - to below the gauge. The Pueblo of San Ildefonso, and the city and county of Santa Fe have entered into a joint powers agreement to build a Pilot Ranney Collector, or "infiltration gallery", which would divert water beneath the river at the Pueblo (which is above the Otowi Gauge) and pipe it to the Buckman Well Field (the main source of domestic water in the Santa Fe area) below the gauge. This is not conclusively ground or surface water, and it may be intermingled with water from a Los Alamos drainage contaminated by radioactivity, heavy metals, and nitrates. The city of Santa Fe plans to access its San Juan/Chama rights via this infiltration gallery.
This application was protested by nineteen groups and individuals, including members of the New Mexico Acequia Association, Acequia Madre de Las Vegas, Acequia Junta y Cienega in Embudo, Amigos Bravos, and other individual parciantes. Protestants are concerned that this transfer could open the door to other municipalities and developmental interests that want to acquire water rights in northern New Mexico and transfer them to other locations south of the Otowi Gauge. There is concern that the infiltration gallery will affect ground water supplies in a wide radius of the pumping, particularly on the pueblos of San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, San Juan and Pojoaque. The transfer of rights from Sunshine Valley also brings into question how as yet unadjudicated Native American water claims will be met.
It is essential that the SEO recognize the impact transfers such as this have upon the "public welfare" of the state. We are shocked by the State Engineer's failure to deal with this issue in his approval of the Mora National Fish Hatchery water transfer application. How can he presume that the removal of a substantial amount of water from acequia use and the consequent removal of land from the agricultural base of a rural community will not be detrimental to the public welfare? To add injury to insult, his claim that the fish hatchery will contribute to the local economy is poorly reasoned and unsubstantiated. The hatchery will provide only six jobs and the presumption that it will attract thousands of tourists is naive, and buys into the dangerous notion that tourism is the salvation of northern New Mexico's rural communities.
In light of all this, the recent decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals to deny the city of Las Vegas' claim for appropriative water rights in the Rio Gallinas demonstrates that when acequias organize to oppose water grabs they can be effective. Under the umbrella of the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association, acequias in the Las Vegas area have been proactive and successful on several issues, including a demand to correct the improprieties of their adjudication. We are further heartened by the efforts of our Peñasco area vecinos, parciantes of the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito, to establish a water bank to protect their community water rights. Other acequias in the La Jicarita valley can use these efforts as a model to organize their own water banks and conservation programs. We need to recognize that as parciantes we all face the same threats to our water rights from outside interests and look towards not only organizing within our individual acequias but joining together as an association to protect our watershed. This means the entire watershed, from Holman to Embudo. Too often the folks at the bottom of the watershed, who feel the effects of every impact in the upper watershed, are left out of the equation. We must strive to be inclusive of them, as well as our valued vecinos at the Pueblo of Picuris, who have already demonstrated their commitment to protecting the clean and plentiful waters of our valley. To effectively organize we must let go of our prejudices and petty squabbles about who represents the community or whose agenda is more important. We are all in this together.
By Kay Matthews
The Rio Santa Barbara water that feeds the nine acequias of the association Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito travels a long and circuitous route from the diversion dam at Hodges to the villages of Ojito and Chamisal. Perhaps even more impressive than this geographical accomplishment is the political management of that water: a single comisión, with one mayordomo of three acequias in Ojito and one mayordomo of six acequias in Chamisal, has served the 200 parciantes for as long as anyone can remember (the acequias claim a priority date of before 1751).
Many of the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito parciantes participated in efforts that began in 1997 to establish a watershed-wide acequia federation to prepare for eventual adjudication and address water issues within the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed. Although those efforts failed, the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito parciantes recognized the need to take steps to insure the integrity of their community acequias and protect individual water rights.
In the spring of 1998 the association drew up a Declaration of Water Conservation Program "to make available a supply of water and water rights for management by the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito for the benefit of its members and itself, which would include but not be limited to storage of water." What the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito have essentially done is set up a water bank to protect individual parciantes, unable to irrigate their land for whatever reason, from forfeiture (failure to put their water rights to beneficial use for a period of four or more years) and abandonment (the taking of irrigable lands for other purposes). The bank would then "allow the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito complete control and power over the use of such water right for the benefit of the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito and its members." Water would be kept within the community acequia system and ownership would be maintained by the water right owner who contracts the water to the association. This same contract would determine who would be responsible for fees and labor of the water right.
Arnold Lopez, former Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito comisionado, told La Jicarita that while the association submitted a copy of the Declaration to the Office of the State Engineer (SEO), that office has never responded to the association. Consequently, the association has chosen to proceed with the conservation program independent of state approval, and does not require the contracts between individual parciantes and the association be submitted to the SEO. At this time, twelve parciantes are involved in the program. According to Lopez, "The Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito are primarily interested in protecting these members from losing their water rights to forfeiture and abandonment, and we will continue to govern the acequia as we always have. Our main concern is that the loss of anyone's water right is a threat to the entire system, and this banking program will allow us to maintain our acequias."
Other acequias throughout the state are taking similar steps to protect their water rights. The Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito is modeled on a program developed by the Taos Valley Acequia Association. The Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association is planning to develop its own water bank. Acequia representatives have been at the New Mexico State Legislature to lobby against a bill that would establish a central, state-wide water bank that would facilitate water transfers out of acequias and areas of origin and make water rights available to the highest bidder. The New Mexico Acequia Association, in a resolution opposing the bill, states that "water banking arrangements are more appropriately conducted at the local and regional level." As La Jicarita goes to press, the Water Banking Act is still being heard in both House and Senate committees.
Mora area parciantes were denied the opportunity to help define just what the state statute of "public welfare" actually means in their protest of the proposed transfer of acequia surface water rights to underground rights at the Mora National Fish Hatchery. Represented by water rights attorney Peter White, parciantes argued that U. S. Fish and Wildlife's retirement of water rights on the Acequia del Alto del Norte would impair the acequia's ability to provide water to all its parciantes and be detrimental to the public welfare of valley residents by threatening the rural/agricultural make-up of the community. The protestants also claimed the proposed transfer threatens one of the state's most pristine wetlands; water for the fish hatchery would be pumped from wells sunk in the vega.
State Engineer Tom Turney's ruling rejected these arguments but provided no explanation to substantiate his claim that less water in the acequia is not harmful to the public welfare of Mora valley residents. He further failed to substantiate his claim that the hatchery would "have a positive economic impact on Mora County and the state of New Mexico."
Peter White told La Jicarita that the protestants will appeal this decision in district court.
On February 17 the Camino Real Ranger District held a workshop at Los Siete in Truchas to inform local residents about contract opportunities with the Forest Service and other government land management agencies. The workshop was organized by Carol Holland of the Camino Real, and participants included Eppie Romero of the Camino Real, David Simpson, contracting officer with the Santa Fe National Forest, Greg Martinez, contracting officer with the Cibola National Forest, and David Maez, purchasing agent with the Santa Fe.
David Simpson began the workshop by discussing service contracting. This entails contracting with the Forest Service to provide services such as tree thinning and planting, construction, professional services (hydrology, wildlife surveying, etc.), and heavy equipment rental. The list Simpson provided included nearly 100 services for which the Forest Service contracts. He explained that people interested in performing these services need to fill out a Bidder's List Application Form, which identifies the services the bidder can perform, the geographical areas in which he or his crew are willing to work, and the price range of projects they feel they can manage. Once a contractor is listed with the Forest Service, he will receive a list of projects and their specifications that fall within the above listed criteria, and upon which he can bid.
Simpson suggested that individuals and crews who are new to the process begin with projects of $2,500 or less. He told the participants that there are many such opportunities and because the decision to award contracts for these small projects rests with the district ranger, it is a good opportunity to demonstrate your ability in your own district at minimum financial risk. He also mentioned that because of the threat of a severe fire season, the Forest Service is compiling lists of local contractors, with their own equipment, to perform services such as cutting fire breaks, providing camp services for fire crews, and renting and operating equipment such as caterpillars and water tankers.
Simpson, Martinez, and Maez all emphasized that they are available to help contractors fill out the necessary paper work and understand the bidding process. Simpson and Maez can be contacted at 438-7858, and Martinez at 346-2650.
The second half of the workshop was conducted by Eppie Romero and Carol Holland and addressed timber sales. Romero and Holland explained that the Forest Service conducts many small timber sales for contractors interested in cutting and marketing sawtimber, vigas, latillas, and firewood. Romero explained how the forests set up a sale, including how it will be bid, its location and volume, appraisal of its minimum value, the period during which the timber must be cut, and bonding. Holland gave specific details about the bidding and auction process and explained how contractors must address the specifications of the project.
Because of the complexities of the process, some participants voiced the feeling that they could do the on-the-ground work but were intimidated by the paper work and bidding. A discussion followed during which it was decided that a follow-up workshop was necessary that would take participants through the entire process from visiting and evaluating the sale to filling out the paper work and making the bid. No date has been set for this workshop, but La Jicarita will publish details in an upcoming issue.
Coalition of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado Counties
Rio Arriba County is helping organize a coalition of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado counties that will meet March 12 at the Oñate Center in Alcalde. Billed as "State of the Southern Rockies Conference and Overview of Southwest Wildlands Initiative", the conference will address the Southwest Wildlands Initiative recently released by Forest Guardians (see January issue of La Jicarita), along with a myriad of other issues. The agenda is as follows:
8:30 am: Call to order by Chairman Alfredo Montoya
8:45 am: Introduction of Rio Arriba County Commis- sioners and general introduction of attendees
9:00 am: General discussion of Southwest Wildlands Initiative authored by Forest Guardians (Santiago Juarez, moderator for conference)
10:00 am: General discussion of need for a Northern New Mexico/Southern Colorado Coalition of Coun- ties and information about Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties
11:00 am: General discussion about federal land use proposed changes and unfunded federal mandates
12:00 pm: Lunch, catered by Rio Arriba County
1:00 pm: Presentation of New Mexico water issues (Fred Vigil and Howard Hutchinson)
1:30 pm: Presentation of Colorado water issues (Ralph Curtis and Allen Davey)
2:30 pm: Presentation of timber issues (Lewis Tenney and Antonio DeVargas)
3:00 pm: Presentation of sports and recreation issues (Tony Suazo, NM Sportsmen)
3:30 pm: Presentation on land grants (Robert Torrez, NM State Historian)
4:00 pm: Explanation of Vermont logging lawsuit (Richard Rosenstock, Attorney at Law)
4:30 pm: Open discussion
5:30 pm: Closing statement by Alfredo Montoya, adjournment
For further information contact Antonio DeVargas at 753-7774.
Rio Gallinas Acequias Win Appeal
On February 17 the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision denying the City of Las Vegas' claim for certain appropriative water rights in the Gallinas River with an 1835 priority date . This is a victory for the long list of those objectors - Storrie Project Water Users, many area acequia associations, and the State Engineer's Office - to the city's claim under the "Pueblo Rights" doctrine. La Jicarita will run an in-depth article from the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association about this decision in next month's paper.
Quivira Coalition Sponsors Herding Workshop at Ghost Ranch
Herding: An Idea Whose Time Has Returned is the name of the Quivira Coalition-sponsored workshop scheduled for Saturday, March 20, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu (Lower Pavilion Room). Ghost Ranch manager Virgil Trujillo will moderate a panel of speakers who will discuss the economic and environmental benefits of herding cattle today, and how it can be reimplemented with cooperation, not confrontation. Speakers include Joe Torres, president of the Valle Vidal Grazing Association, which has successfully operated a herding program on the Carson for 13 years; Steve Allen, a Colorado rancher who employs herding; Kirk Gadzia, a range expert and holistic resource educator; and Leonard Atencio, Santa Fe Forest Supervisor. The workshop is free and open to the public.
El Cajete Mine Declared Two Separate Operations in District Court
On February 17 District Judge Art Encinias ruled state mining regulators erred in designating Española businessman Richard Cook's mining operation at El Cajete Mine in the Jemez Mountains a "new unit" of his existing Las Conchas mine. This means Cook will have to seek a new permit for the operation, which will be subject to more stringent regulations under the 1994 New Mexico Mining Act. These include a baseline study requirement and " . . . a ban on 'bad actors' that is, current or consistent violators of state environmental laws or regulations." The latter regulation may apply to Cook because of improprieties he has been charged with or found guilty of regarding other mines he operates. Doug Wolf, of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who represented the Sierra Club in this case, was quoted in a Santa Fe newspaper as saying, "On a personal level it sort of reminds me of the first Star Wars movie, when they blow up the death star. It's not the end of the story, but it's a nice victory for the environmental cause." Cook has said he plans to appeal the decision.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.