Taos County drops protest to water-rights transfer for Aamodt Settlement

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 3/22/19

Don Quixote had a better chance of toppling a giant than Taos County did in winning a water fight with the state.The grim message came from the county attorney Randy Autio at the Tuesday (March 19) …

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Taos County drops protest to water-rights transfer for Aamodt Settlement

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The March 21, 2019 edition of The Taos News contained several stories about water issues in the Taos Valley. Read the front-page story about a four-day protest at a water well, an explainer of the Abeyta Settlement, and a decision by an acequia in Arroyo Seco to cut ties with the valley-wide acequia organization.

Don Quixote had a better chance of toppling a giant than Taos County did in winning a water fight with the state.

The  message came from the county attorney Randy Autio at the Tuesday (March 19) meeting of the Taos County Board of Commissioners.

The commission voted unanimously to drop an appeal of a transfer of an incredible amount of water rights to the Santa Fe area.

In 2017, the state engineer OK'd a transfer of 1,752 acre-feet of groundwater rights from Top of the World Farm in Costilla to a water project in Santa Fe County. Those water rights account for nearly half of the water rights needed to satisfy the Aamodt Settlement, a complex agreement to a water rights dispute involving four pueblos, the state and non-pueblo water rights holders in the Pojoaque Valley, which is south of Taos.

Two months after that state engineer approval, the county commission voted to appeal the transfer in a district court. But the potential costs were known even back then. At the time, they approved $150,000 within the budget to pay for costs associated with the county's protest of the transfer of water rights out of the basin.

Since then, the county commission asked for a fiscal and legal analysis of the appeal, though potential costs floated at Tuesday meetings were within the estimates given two years ago. Autio said this week that it would call cost county taxpayers "probably north of $200,000 to proceed with this appeal."

The commission asked the lawyer to drop the appeal of the transfer in order to "close this contract and hopefully move on with different opportunities," said Commission Chairperson Mark Gallegos.

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