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Abeyta: Taos Adjudication

History & Importance

The Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement Agreement was developed through multi-party negotiations beginning in 1989 between the Taos Pueblo, the State of New Mexico, the Taos Valley Acequia Association (and its 55 member acequias), the Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District (EPWSD), and the 12 Taos-area Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Associations to settle Taos Pueblo’s water rights claims to the Rio Hondo and Rio Pueblo de Taos stream systems. An initial Settlement Agreement was signed May 2006, and following the passage of the Taos Settlement Act on December 8, 2010, P.L. No. 111-291, § 501, et seq., a final Settlement Agreement (conformed to include provisions of the Act) was signed by all parties, including the United States in its trust capacity, in January 2013. Collectively the parties to the Settlement Agreement represent the vast majority of water users in the Taos Valley.

In exchange for adjudication of the Pueblo’s water rights with senior priorities, the Settlement Agreement provides funding for Mutual Benefit Projects and mitigation mechanisms for offsetting surface water depletion effects of groundwater pumping, preserves existing acequia water uses and historic water sharing arrangements between the Pueblo and non-Pueblo acequias on the Rio Lucero and Rio Pueblo, and authorizes the United States to allocate 2,621 AFY of water supply contracts from the San Juan-Chama Project for the Pueblo, the Town of Taos, and EPWSD.

For a detailed historic timeline and summary please visit:

Current Status

The Court is conducted an expedited inter se proceeding to determine whether to enter the proposed Partial Final Judgment and Decree adjudicating the Pueblo's water rights according to the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Notice was provided to all water rights claimants in the Rio Hondo and Rio Pueblo de Taos stream systems of their opportunity to review the settlement and the proposed decree, and to file objections, with the court.

The Partial Final Decree incorporates the December 12, 2012, Settlement Agreement Among the United States of America ("United States"), Taos Pueblo, the State of New Mexico ("State"), the Taos Valley Acequia Association and its 55 Member Acequias ("TVAA", the Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District ("El Prado"), and the 12 Taos Area Mutual Domestic Water Consumers' Associations ("MDWCAs") (the signatories are hereinafter referred to as the "Settlement Parties").

The Settlement Parties requested that the Court, after hearing and deciding all objections, defer entry of the decree until the parties notify the Court that the conditions specified in Sections 509(f)(2)(D) through 509(f)(2)(F) of the Settlement Act have been satisfied. Satisfaction of all conditions precedent would result in a "final and nonappealable" decree, as required by Section 509(f)(2) of the Settlement Act.

In 2015, the Special Master, Vickie L. Gabin, reporting to Judge Martha Vasquez District Judge, found that none of the Objectors raised cognizable factual or legal issues which should be heard in further proceedings. Special Master Gabin found that no Objector successfully demonstrated reasons that the Court should not enter the May 13, 2013, Joint Motion when the Settlement Parties so request. However, the Special Master noted in her report to the Court that she did not include a recommendation whether the Court should grant the May 31, 2013, Joint Motion and enter the Partial Final Decree at this time.

The Taos Settlement Act set March 31, 2017 as the deadline for the court to enter the Partial Final Judgment and Decree. Now, parties to the settlement are using the $150 million in federal and state dollars set aside in order to abide by the terms in the settlement agreement. For example, El Prado Water and Sanitation District was the first to obtain money to plan and drill wells (about $5 million for the first phase). Some of the money is being used to drill the Midway well on U.S. 64 to move water pumping away from the religiously important Buffalo Pasture at Taos Pueblo because wells impact the shallow aquifer there.

Resources

Court Filings

Settlement Acts & Agreements

Technical Documents

For questions about the Taos (Abeyta) Adjudication, please see the contact information below:

Para preguntas sobre la Adjudicación de Taos (Abetya), consulte la información de contacto a continuación:

Ombudsman Contact Information

Stephanie Russo Baca, Director
ombudsman@law.unm.edu
505-277-0551
Fax: 505-277-3319

The Ombudsman Program does not offer legal advice. Claimants who believe they need legal advice are encouraged to consult with an attorney. The Ombudsman Program is an independent program and is not associated with any court, the federal government, or the Office of the State Engineer.