U.S. House passes Northern N.M. settlement bills

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By Special to the Monitor

ALBUQUERQUE — Two bills that would resolve decades-long water disputes in north-central New Mexico have passed the U.S. House, Rep. Ben Ray Luján said Thursday.

The Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement Act and the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act are based on years of negotiations between American Indian leaders and local, state and federal officials. The court cases that started them were filed in the 1960s.

The settlements would assure water resources for the Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Tesuque and Taos pueblos, while providing for the water needs of non-Indian interests in the region.

The bills would authorize the secretary of the Interior to approve the settlement of water rights claims and to develop water infrastructure in the Rio Grande Basin.

The Aamodt settlement calls for the construction of a regional water system in Santa Fe County that would benefit the pueblos and their neighbors.

DL Sanders, chief counsel for the State Engineer’s Office, said the federal government would pay $169 million in the Aamodt settlement for the regional water system’s construction. The state, Santa Fe County and the city of Santa Fe would pay about $117 million, he said.

The Taos settlement involves several small projects aimed at improving water quality, efficiency and management in the Taos Valley.

The bill would authorize the federal government to pay about $134 million and the state about $14.5 million, Sanders said.

Taos Pueblo officials and War Chief David G. Gomez said they hope the Taos settlement becomes law before the end of the year.

The bills now go to the U.S. Senate in a written statement Thursday that they are “elated” by the House passage of the bills, which they called a “major achievement” for the pueblo and Taos Valley, Taos Pueblo Gov. James Luján said.

New Mexico’s senators have gained support for the bills from a key Senate panel and are working toward securing a vote in the Senate in coming months, Luján said.