NMELC and clients, protecting the environment.


When New Mexico's Water Code was enacted in 1907, the state was sparsely populated, and people relied mainly on surface water supplies. Conditions have changed. The state's population has increased nearly seven times to nearly two million, surface waters have become over-appropriated, and water users have become increasingly dependent on ground water and water from projects such as dams. New supplies from water projects have become either too costly or non-feasible, and interstate stream compacts and Indian water rights impose additional constraints. To put it simply, New Mexico is running out of water.

To help stop the waste and pollution of this precious resource, the Law Center has litigated cases and provided advice to grassroots organizations involving the following issues:

• Water pollution, including water polluted by mining, logging and manufacturing companies

• Sale of water rights from agricultural uses to industrial/municipal uses

• Shortage of water due to over-development, mining and manufacturing

• Attempts by the state to limit public participation in the adoption of water quality standards

Nearly every environmental problem in this state involves water, so nearly all of the Law Center's cases have involved the protection of water in one way or another. We deal with both degradation of water resources and the shortage of water for the population of New Mexico.

In Questa, the Molycorp mine case is a land issue – or is it? Over 239 slurry spills have flowed into the Red River during the past three decades, in addition to the omnipresent acid mine drainage that coats the riverbed with aluminum and lowers the pH of the water to an uninhabitable level for microorganisms, insects and fish.

Why was water such a key issue in the Law Center's work for more stringent regulations of the Sunland Park landfill? Because trash doesn't merely sit quietly once buried ... it becomes alive, breathing methane and breaking down into a thick chemical stew made from fast-food wrappers and toilet bowl cleaners – anything that is thrown away. This stew can then leak into groundwater if the landfill is not properly sealed.

New Mexico growth also points back to water. Until the twenty-first century, humans have been able to conquer the desert with water pulled from rivers and aquifers. However, we have now allocated our river water, and are quickly depleting our aquifers. Las Cruces, where the population continues to grow despite evidence that points to the fact that the city will outgrow its water resources by 2025, will be the first city in New Mexico to experience the permanent, severe shortage of water. However, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe, will not be far behind.

Since 1987, we have worked with community groups, neighborhood associations, Native American tribes and pueblos, and non-profit groups to ensure that this ever-dwindling resource is protected from degradation. In addition to litigation, the Law Center has lobbied long and hard to pass water-friendly legislation and we have worked with regulators to help them become better defenders of our water.

Major water cases, current and past, include:

Top of the World Farms Water Transfer Case

The Law Center represented the New Mexico Acequia Association, several acequias, and numerous individuals in a successful effort to prevent the State Engineer from approving a water transfer from Top of the World Fams, near Colorado, to below the Otowi Gauge to Santa Fe. If it had succeeded, it would have been the first time that water rights would have been transferred from above the gauge to below it, which would have put significant pressure on traditional acequia communities to sell their water to urban developers.

HRI-ENDAUM Uranium Mining Case [Click for more info]

San Augustin Plains Ranch Water Grab Case [Click for more info]

Chino Mine Water Pollution Case [Click for more info]

Molycorp Molybdenum Mining Case [Click for more info]

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