ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Texas can proceed with its lawsuit against New Mexico over management of the Rio Grande.
Texas contends that groundwater pumping near the Texas-New Mexico border has resulted in Texas farmers and residents being deprived of Rio Grande water.
New Mexico argues that downstream users are getting what’s required under a compact between the states and that the Supreme Court should have let lower courts consider the dispute.
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said Monday he was not surprised by the court’s ruling.
“I am confident that the court takes such state-to-state disputes very seriously, and we look forward to being able to tell New Mexico’s side of the story and to have our day in court,” King said.
The Supreme Court gave New Mexico 60 days to file a motion seeking the case’s dismissal. Texas would then have an opportunity to respond.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality first asked the Supreme Court to weigh in more than a year ago, alleging that New Mexico was violating the 1938 Rio Grande Compact that governs how water is shared by Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.
King argued that a 2008 agreement between the federal government and two irrigation districts, one in Texas and the other in New Mexico, unfavorably changed the allocation of water for his state.
Officials with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which serves farmers in southern New Mexico, said the agreement was aimed at heading off a legal battle between the two states that could ultimately harm Dona Ana County farmers by cutting off their right to use groundwater.
Nearly all of New Mexico has been mired in drought for the past several years, leaving stretches of the Rio Grande dry at times and reservoirs along the river at record-low levels. Without any promise for moisture this winter, farmers are still making hard choices about whether to grow staple crops such as chile, onions and pecans.
Those farmers who made it through last year had access to wells for irrigating because there was not enough Rio Grande water left for New Mexico. This year, irrigation officials have yet to make predictions about how much water might be allocated.
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