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Media advisory: Community members to attend hearing on water mining proposals threatening sacred lands in Southwest New Mexico

April 3, 2024
Leia Barnett, WildEarth Guardians, lbarnett@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands  
#ForceForNature, #GreaterGila, #PressStatement
RESERVE, N.M. – On April 5, an unlikely coalition will gather in Reserve, NM to attend a court hearing in the ongoing litigation to prevent Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC (APR) from securing a permit to appropriate and divert  54,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater from the Plains of San Agustin, a series of closed basins in southwest New Mexico that provides critical drinking water for communities and wildlife. APR is proposing to transport this water to the Albuquerque area through a yet-to-be built 141-mile pipeline.

Conservation groups, the Catron County Commission, community members, and Tribal partners protested APR’s groundwater application before the New Mexico State Engineer in 2016, and the State Engineer denied APR’s application in 2018 on the grounds that it was speculative, lacking a specific plan to appropriate a specific quantity of groundwater for specific beneficial uses. The protesting parties all agree speculative water mining will have detrimental impacts on communities, wildlife, and Catron County.

APR has asked the New Mexico courts to overturn the State Engineer’s decision to deny the application, but the courts have not done so. Most recently, the New Mexico Court of Appeals sent APR’s application back to the district court to consider the merits of the application. The hearing on January 12 will focus on whether APR’s application is speculative and should therefore be dismissed.

“Because APR’s application lacks specificity about how and where the water will be beneficially used, the public is deprived of meaningful information necessary to make informed decisions about how and whether their interests may be affected by the application,” said WildEarth Guardians Greater Gila New Mexico Advocate Leia Barnett. “APR cannot be allowed to monopolize groundwater for monetary gain, while local communities and fragile ecosystems are left with a diminished water supply to meet their needs.”

June 3rd, 2024 marks 100 years since the Gila Wilderness was designated as this country’s first wilderness area. The northern boundary of the wilderness lies just south of the Plains of San Augustin and is the heart of the Greater Gila Bioregion, and the headwaters of one of the West’s last free-flowing rivers, the Gila River. The Greater Gila is an ecological treasure trove, home to over 200 rare plant and animal species, over 30 of which are listed as threatened or endangered. The region is the sacred ancestral homeland of numerous Tribes across New Mexico, and is a beloved landscape for hunters, hikers, birders, and outdoor lovers from across the nation and the world. The Greater Gila is also suffering the effects of an ongoing mega drought, making water an even scarcer and more sacred resource for communities and ecosystems. Speculative water mining like that being proposed by APR is ludicrous in an age of climate catastrophe and aridification.

“APR’s proposal is a clear violation of the fundamental regulation prohibiting speculation on New Mexico’s beneficial use doctrine,” said community member Mike Hasson. “They want to take water from one area of the state and sell it, at a profit, to another area of the state. The doctrine is in place specifically to prevent such profiteering from the water resources of the state and its citizens, for whom water is a basic and essential resource.”

Members of the media are invited to attend this hearing to gain insights into the legal proceedings and to report on the potential consequences of the case’s outcome. Key stakeholders, legal experts, and environmental advocates will be present to provide comments and answer questions.

The Greater Gila bioregion is threatened. Photo by Leia Barnett.


Other Contact
Mike Hasson, Catron County community member, handlebarmike@icloud.com