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Texas suing New Mexico in water war

Alex Goldsmith, KRQE News, January 9, 2012 

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A water war between Texas and New Mexico may have to be settled by the country’s highest court.

On Tuesday Texas sued New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court over a 1938 agreement between the two states and Colorado that splits up the waters of the Rio Grande.

That agreement was forged to settle a long-running legal battle between the states. Under it, the river’s water is divvied up at the Elephant Butte Reservoir. Typically, southern New Mexico has gotten about 57 percent of the water released and Texas has gotten the rest.

Elephant Butte Res. at lowest level in eight years

But lawyers for Texas claim in its lawsuit against New Mexico that the state has illegally allowed farmers to pump out groundwater in the Rio Grande basin, diverting water that should be allocated to Texas.

To fix that, the federal government, with the agreement of irrigation districts in southern New Mexico and southwestern Texas, put an agreement in place in 2008 that reallocated more surface water to Texas.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office cried foul and sued the feds over the deal, claiming that it would benefit Texas at the state’s expense and result in $183 million in damage to New Mexico’s agricultural economy. The state says it has the legal right to control groundwater in the Rio Grande Basin, not the federal government.

Now Texas has joined the fight with its lawsuit. In the suit, it claims New Mexico farmers are improperly siphoning off billions of gallons of water that should be governed by the 1938 agreement.

Neither Attorney General Gary King nor Governor Susana Martinez are backing down.

“Texas is trying to rustle New Mexico’s water and is using a lawsuit to extort an agreement that would only benefit Texas while destroying water resources for hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans,” said King in a statement released by the AG’s office Tuesday afternoon.

“We are reviewing the Texas lawsuit and will decide how best to protect the water that is so vital to New Mexican families and businesses,” said the Governor’s spokesperson Enrique Knell. “We won’t cede a single inch of New Mexico water to Texas.”

These are tough water times in New Mexico.

Elephant Butte Reservoir is at its lowest level in eight years and in 2012 most cities across New Mexico got about half of what they’d get in a typical year.

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