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Press Releases

Guardians Files Appeal Seeking Accountability for the Rio Grande

October 10, 2018
Jen Pelz, 303-884-2702, jpelz@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
#RethinkRivers, #ReviveTheRio
SANTA FE, N.M.—WildEarth Guardians filed a notice of appeal yesterday in the New Mexico Court of Appeals seeking to force the State Engineer to protect flows in the Rio Grande by requiring accountability for the unrestrained water use of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in central New Mexico. The appeal looks to compel the State Engineer to require the District actually prove it has used the large quantity of water it claimed upon receiving its permits from the State in 1925. Despite the clear mandate under its permits, the District has long avoided confirming its use with the hope of continuing to control and divert the entire flow over the river in perpetuity.

“The days of water abundance are gone,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The reality of these times demands that the basic limitations on water use are met. Our litigation seeks just that, to enforce key provisions of state water law to safeguard and conserve water for our rivers.”

Guardians filed suit in March of 2016 requesting the district court compel the State Engineer to perform his mandatory duty under the law to either set a date by which the District must prove actual use of the water it claimed over nine decades ago or cancel the permits. State law requires a permit holder “prove beneficial use” of the water it claimed by the date certain set in the permit. As of the date of this press release, no new deadline has been set nor has proof of beneficial use been filed with the State. A hearing was held in July and the district court issued a decision on September 13, 2018. The district court refused to compel action on the part of the State Engineer finding that the State Engineer has discretion in upholding the requirement for proof of beneficial use and that another adequate remedy at law exists for Guardians outside the current suit.

“The status quo is untenable,” added Pelz. “Without action by the court to compel the State Engineer to provide accountability on the Rio Grande, the river will continue to be sucked dry and the long-term water sustainability of our state, including New Mexico’s ability to meet its obligations to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact, will be at risk.”

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, WildEarth Guardians’ managing attorney, represents the organization in the appeal. This appeal is the latest action in the group’s campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third-longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

Other Contact
Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, 505-401-4180, sruscavagebarz@wildearthguardians.org