Groundwater Ownership Case Shot Down By Court

By: GPK Media

By Etta Pettijohn | For The SENTINEL

A lawsuit that could have had unprecedented implications for western states water ownership, and that some say is an attempt by the federal government to take over state water rights, has been settled by the New Mexico Appeals Court.

New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge James J. Wechsler ruled last week that the U.S. government’s water rights along the Rio Grande were limited to surface water, after considering legal briefs filed by the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the City of Las Cruces.

The federal government had asserted claims for damages to groundwater in a natural resource damage case in northern New Mexico brought against a Chevron/Molycorp mine.

Wechsler on Aug. 1 ruled the federal government’s water rights along the lower Rio Grande were limited to the surface water, following testimony from local government and water management entities on the potential effect of the federal claim.

The U.S. Department of Justice was claiming in the lawsuit that the federal government had “superior” groundwater rights, said state Rep. Joseph Cervantes, who chaired a legislative Water ….