Appeals Court rules in 52-year old New Mexico water fight

A New Mexico water fight that started with a lawsuit in 1966 drew the attention of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which sent the case back to a New Mexico federal court.

The appeals court in Denver overturned a lower court ruling in the lawsuit filed by the State of New Mexico 52 years ago to settle a water fight over the Pojoaque Basin which is in Santa Fe county. The water comes from a geographic area and eventually drains into the Rio Pojoaque. The Basin also lies within the boundaries of the San Ildefonso, Pojoaque, Nambe, and Tesuque Pueblos tribal bands.

Over the years, the Pueblos also filed suit and a district court ruled the tribes had first-priority rights to divert the water for irrigation. Settlement negotiations started in 1999 and Congress agreed to a proposed settlement.

But over the years, 800 objections from parties not directly bound by the agreement were made. In 2017, a federal judge ruled against them and gave water rights to the four Indian pueblos and non-Indian residents in the county.

Those objecting to the settlement argued they didn’t have the same water rights as others. But the Appeals Court ruled they had the same rights and benefits and reversed and remanded “the case for entry of an order vacating the district court’s judgment and dismissing the objects for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”