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Conservation Groups, Albuquerque, Reach Agreement on Rio Grande Water – Settlement Will Help City and River Thrive

February 23, 2005
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Albuquerque, NM – A coalition of conservation organizations today announced an agreement with the City of Albuquerque that creates new mechanisms to acquire, store and release water to benefit the health of theRio Grande. This agreement closes one chapter in a longstanding debate over how to meet the needs of people and wildlife along the Rio Grande. The city and the conservation groups – Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, National Audubon Society and Sierra Club –stepped up to the plate, opening the door for all parties to work together to keep the Rio Grande alive and free.

Settlement Highlights:

• Today marks an agreement to create space to store environmental water in Abiquiu Reservoir. This will become one of the only reservoirs in the West with a significant amount – 30,000 acres/feet – of its space allocated to the storage of water to be used exclusively for environmental purposes.

• This agreement commits $250K (from the city and plaintiffs) towards a pilot water leasing program, which both parties hope to have matched by federal and state funds. Wasteful and inefficient agricultural water use continues to be a significant part of the Rio Grande’s problems, but agriculture can also be a large part of the solution.

• The settlement also helps connect the city’s urban population to the river by requiring the city to modify its water billing system so that residents have the choice to add $1 per month to their bills to go towards the purchase of environmental water for the Rio Grande. This provision strengthens the connection of urban dwellers to the Rio Grande.

Comments from Conservation Groups:
“It’s a hopeful day for the Rio Grande and the people of Albuquerque,” said John Horning Executive Director of Forest Guardians. “This agreement reconnects us with the Rio Grande and reaffirms our obligation to ensure its survival.”

“We believe this agreement creates a new economic and political foundation which, if built upon, can create even greater resolve to ensure the river reclaims rights to its own waters,” said Letty Belin, attorney for the plaintiff groups.

“We are very excited about setting up a savings account for the river,” said Kara Gillon, Staff Attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, “and look forward to working with the Middle Rio Grande Collaborative Program to make progress toward more long-term benefits for the river and all who depend on it.”

“This settlement recognizes that the Rio Grande embodies the spirit of New Mexico, and that we all have a role to play in ensuring future generations will be able to witness a living Rio Grande,” said Richard Barish with the Sierra Club.

“There are still major threats to the vitality of the Rio Grande’s future, but this agreement demonstrates that negotiated solutions are indeed possible,” said Tom Jervis, President of the New Mexico Audubon Council. “The path was long and contentious, but in the end this settlement is good for the river and all of those – humans and wildlife alike – who depend upon its flow.”

Today’s agreement ends litigation involving the federal San Juan/Chama Water Project, of which the City of Albuquerque is the major beneficiary. The settlement does not address litigation over Middle Rio Grande Project Water, of which agricultural interests, namely the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, are the primary beneficiaries.

2/23/05 –Read the Settlement Agreement (PDF)