Letter to the Bureau of Reclamation regarding “Mutual Benefits Projects”

Rick Brown sent this letter to the Bureau of Reclamation on November 20, 2019:


PUBLIC SCOPING COMMENT CARD


November 19 2019
Rick Brown, Secretary Green Party of Taos
info@greenpartytaos.org
P.O. Box 329
Taos, New Mexico 87571


I live in Taos County in an area where, like many other parts of the county, everyone is on a private well and does not presently have access to municipal water. I am also on an acequia, and I am a parciante and active user.


I am very concerned about the “Mutual Benefits Projects” (very misnamed in my opinion because they benefit very few people) for several reasons. As I mentioned I am on a private well which I depend on like everyone around me and in other parts of Taos County as well. The “Mutual Benefits Projects” call for drilling several new water supply wells into the deep aquifer which will have very large pumps to draw out a large amount of water. This has the potential to draw down the water table so that we would lose our wells.


We have learned that people like us who drilled their wells in recent years have no legal recourse if we were to lose our well. In the short term this would leave us with no access to running water for drinking, washing, and for our radiant heating system.


If the town were to extend water lines to us, I have reason to believe that our water would be much more expensive. The deep aquifer water is known to be highly mineralized which would require expensive treatment, the cost of which of course would be passed on to us. This would not be just an economic impact but a cultural impact to the area as well because many of the people whose families have been here for generations are struggling to make ends meets as it is, and having to pay higher water bills could be the last straw forcing people to leave. They would most likely be replaced by people moving in who are more affluent and used to a higher cost of living, or property being used as short term rental to tourists which we are already seeing.


And the fact is that we do not need new water supply wells with such a large capacity. The Town of Taos is consistently meeting its current water needs with its existing wells which have much smaller capacity, with the few disruptions we have had due to mechanical problems, not lack of water. If some wells need to be moved due to impacts to the Taos Pueblo land it should be possible to replace them with wells of similar capacity, sited to have a minimum impact to domestic wells.


My other concern is the impact of these wells to the acequias that many of us use to water crops and gardens and which also serve a vital function to recharge the shallow aquifer in the Taos Valley.


The model which is the basis for the Abeyta Settlement predicts that when the “Mutual Benefits Projects” are fully implemented the water table will be lowered to the extent that there will no longer be springs to feed the rivers that come down from the mountains and water our valley and feed our acequias. The Abeyta Settlement has proposed an answer to this which is Mitigation Wells. These are another series of wells into the deep aquifer which would be used to pump water uphill to put into the streams or acequias near the base of the mountains.


There are many problems with this idea. One is that, as noted previously, the deep aquifer water has high concentrations of minerals which would make it unfit to put into streams as-is because the water could be toxic to fish and wildlife that depend on the streams, and would also be detrimental to agricultural use because the minerals could build up in soil over time and damage the fertility of the soil. Treatment would be necessary and likely required for putting this water into streams. The cost of such treatment is not covered under the Abeyta Settlement and would have to be borne by mutual domestic water suppliers or acequia organizations that would be responsible for the wells. Operation and maintenance of the pumps and treatment systems would again be very expensive and this would change the whole character of the acequia system if it could continue to exist at all. This would be a huge cultural impact.


We are mostly small growers, few big operations or people with a lot of money are using the acequias. It is a very simple low-tech system maintained mostly with mattocks and shovels that uses natural gravity flow to bring water from the mountain streams to our fields following historic channels. We don’t have to pay much for water from the acequias, on ours we can earn most of our annual dues by participating in the yearly ditch cleaning. If we had to pay for expensive treated water and maintenance of the pumps and treatment system very few of us could afford to continue using the acequia. Continued agriculture in the Taos Valley would be limited to a few big operations that could afford to pay for the water, if that would be economical. The result would be that more and more former agricultural land would be sold off for residential to newcomers, more descendants of the original families would have to leave, and the community that presently exists around the acequias would be lost. And if there is much less agriculture using irrigation water we would lose the aquifer recharge that we are getting from it. And even our deep aquifer, which is finite, would eventually be drained.


To summarize, I request that the Programmatic Environmental Assessment be comprehensive, to cover the long term cumulative effects of all planned wells, not just the relatively small impacts of each one individually, and include all environmental, economic, and cultural impacts. My recommendation is that the “no action” alternative be chosen, that no federal dollars be appropriated for any part of the “mutual benefit projects” as currently conceived, and that new studies be done to develop ways to meet actual needs under a limited growth scenario that employs conservation first before developing additional water supplies.


Endorsed by the Green Party of Taos County

WATER SUSTAINABILITY FOR TAOS

by Susann McCarthy

I arrived in Taos after a lifetime of the poisoned air of Los Angeles and lived in Taos, rejoicing in its clear skies and clear air, for quite some time before I fully realized that water shortage is our Achilles’ heel.  Taos was not highly urbanized when I arrived; but now in 2019 it is.   One hundred years ago Los Angeles was in its own water crisis.  In 1974 Phil Lovato was expressing serious concerns about a possible water crisis developing in Taos Valley.  In the context that elected Phil Lovato as Mayor of Taos in 1980 because he was an expert on water law, discussions had begun on what is now commonly known as the “Abeyta Settlement.”   Taos Pueblo, the oldest community in the Taos Valley, has the ancient claim from “time immemorial” to all of Taos Valley’s water. The Abeyta Settlement recognizes that it is to the mutual benefit of all signatories of the Agreement to share some of the water in the Taos Valley with non-Pueblo users. In future, other competing claims to Taos Valley water will certainly arise under pressure of increased populations and impending climate disturbance.  It is also evident that water users outside of Taos Valley have wanted in the past, and will continue to want in future, to capture any available water rights to meet their own anticipated, increasing water needs.  

In 1969 the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer completed a hydrologic survey of water use and rights in the Taos Valley (Rio Hondo, Rio Pueblo and Rio Fernando, Rio Chiquito, Rio Grande del Ranchos watersheds).  The hydrologic survey is the basis of adjudication of water ownership in the Taos Valley, resulting in the Abeyta Settlement, which in essence established a water budget for Taos Valley water users.

After half a century, there are changes in water use that the Abeyta Settlement did not anticipate.  Perhaps the major area of difficulty for a current water budget arises from the fact that the Settlement was formulated prior to general awareness of the climate crises we now know we face.  Consequently, it lacks provision for meeting the challenges that disruption is certainly causing to current and future water availability.  Fortunately, though, the Settlement contains within its terms the responsibility of any one or more of its signatories to request adjustment of the hydrologic model if aspects of the model are not consistent with new information. The terms of the Settlement also provides for the drilling of deep wells to draw up aquifer waters to augment an otherwise restrictive water supply; it remains to be seen whether this option is a wise designation, because, for one thing, the quality of water from such depth is unknown.  This summer a much-anticipated conference of the parties to the Settlement, intended to be open to the public, was to be conducted in Taos by UNM’s Utton Center.  Whether the Bureau of Reclamation may also participate in this conference is currently not known.  We hope this important gathering will take place soon.

Our community is at a critical juncture in the matter of water.   How effectively town, county and tribal governments adopt and implement policies to control the use, storage, conservation and sustainability of our shared water will determine our future in Taos Valley.   Will the Town and County governments continue to follow the growth and development-friendly policies with associated high water usage, delaying a vital community-wide commencement of a sustainability model?   To further delay turning our attention to water use management risks the danger that, like some ancient civilizations, perhaps distant in time but geographically near to us, we might be forced to abandon our community in search of water.  

As we contemplate this precarious moment in planetary and community life, and work toward a comprehensive water budget for our future, it is already possible to discern ways we can improve on our own, individual, self-restraining water use. For example, shorter showers, washing dishes in less water, planting less thirsty plants, not hosing down concrete and automobiles to clean them.  Addressing this water shortage, like addressing climate disruption itself, ultimately demands systemic strategies to correct some of the most destructive policies impacting local water availability over time.  Restoring the acequias and revitalizing local agriculture are such systemic tactics, and will greatly advance our continuation as a stronger, self-sustaining local region of New Mexico which does not exceed its carrying capacity.  Many more ways will emerge through discussion and consensus by which we will come together as neighbors and Taos residents to see water with new eyes and work to preserve it from waste with new habits and practices.

Susann McCarthy

Co-Chair of the Water Committee of the Green Party of Taos County (GPTC)

The Steering Committee of the GPTC endorses this statement.

Susann McCarthy is co-chair of the Water Committee of the Green Party of Taos County. The Steering Committee of the GPTC endorses this statement.

This article also appeared in the Taos News, November 7, 2019 edition. https://www.taosnews.com/stories/climate-change-will-impact-abeyta-water-settlement-taos-water-supplies,60558

David Pérez Interviews Green Party of Taos County on KNCE

David Pérez interviews Green Party of Taos County members, Laura Sauza, Co-chair and Seamus Berkeley, State Co-chair , on the radiowaves addressing important issues surrounding our community, the amazing people of planet earth and the Green Party’s four key pillars of: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence.

KNCE 93.5: https://truetaosradio.com

Green Party of Taos County Annual Meeting

The Green Party of Taos County will hold its Annual Meeting on March 23, 2019 from 2 to 4 pm at the SOMOS offices at 108 Civic Plaza Drive, Taos, New Mexico.

Public forums planned for 2019 will be discussed, voter registration will be available and new officers will stand for election to serve in the coming year.

David Pérez Interviews Green Party of Taos County on KNCE

David Pérez interviews Green Party of Taos County members, Laura Sauza, Co-chair and Rick Brown, Secretary, on the radiowaves addressing important issues surrounding our community, the amazing people of planet earth and the Green Party’s four key pillars of: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence.

KNCE 93.5: https://truetaosradio.com