Adjudications - Wherein a legal figure reviews two opposing cases based on evidence - are complex, expensive and lengthy proceedings. The adjudication of water rights, however, is required under the 1907 New Mexico Water Code and gives the New Mexico State Engineer the information necessary to meet his statutory obligations; that is, to administer the existing water uses, preserve the aquifer, make informed decisions about the future water development in the area, be ready to administer in times of storage, and meet New Mexico's Compact obligations. 

Adjudications determine who owns what water rights and in what amount. They are required by statute. The purpose of adjudication is to obtain a judicial determination and definition of water rights within each stream system or underground basin so that the State Engineer may effectively perform water rights administration and meet New Mexico’s interstate stream obligations. 

The State Engineer is responsible for active adjudications, many of which have separate sections, currently underway in federal and state courts in New Mexico. 

Read more about adjudications, click here

Steps of the Adjudication Process

The first stage of the adjudication process is the completion of the hydrographic survey. During this process, Hydrographic Survey Bureau and the Litigation and Adjudication Program staff gather all of the information used to legally describe a water right and record it in the report and associated maps filed with the court. The survey filed by the bureau is presumed by the court to be correct. Any party wishing to dispute these facts bears the burden of proving the survey wrong. 

The bureau makes every effort to ensure its information is correct. Staff search county ownership records, State Engineer water rights records, historical records, field surveys, field interviews, historical aerial photography and current aerial photography. 

All new hydrographic surveys are based on geographic information systems (GIS) technology and all field measurements are now done with global positioning systems (GPS) receivers. To view a PDF version of the below image explaining the hydrographic cycle, click here

The Anatomy of a Hydrographic SurveyThe Anatomy of a Hydrographic Survey
Courtesy of The Office of the State Engineer of New Mexico

Role of the Court, Attorney General, and Office of the State Engineer

New Mexico does not have a separate water court designated to hear only water disputes. Instead, New Mexico has a judge assigned to hear water matters in each judicial district and special masters who assist the judges by conducting the day-to-day operations of the case. The NM Attorney General gives the attorneys working for the Office of the State Engineer general authority to represent the state of New Mexico in adjudications. They are granted special commissions by the NM Attorney General and are called Special Assistant Attorneys General.