Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reynolds Issues Ruling On San Marcial Water Rights

By John Larson

SOCORRO – Can a property owner claim irrigation water rights on land that that is non-irrigable? That was the question before District Court Judge Matthew Reynolds at a hearing last Thursday, July 15.
The issue concerns three tracts of land in the San Marcial area – forever ruined by the 1937 Rio Grande flood – that Chuck Headen of Socorro acquired in 1976.
Abandoned by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in their official plan in 1928, the communities of San Marcial, Val Verde and La Mesa were left to defend themselves against flooding and river overburden, and were eventually “squeezed out” by Federal Reclamation projects.
Headen is requesting the court to provide declaratory judgment of the rights based on the fact that irrigation became impossible after such activities had occurred. In the 1937 flood the levees were destroyed and the river changed its course running over farms in San Marcial, Val Verde and La Mesa. The State Engineer does not view this as a valid excuse for non-irrigation.
Both lawyers argued the issues of abandonment and forfeiture, assuming that the water rights on those lands remained attached to the land.
Reynolds offered a third interpretation, quoting a state statute that referred a right to use water “so long as the water can be beneficially used thereon…”
He wrote in his decision that no water rights have existed on the land from 1937 on – due to the nonirrigable land , and that the tax deeds in 1938 irrigation water rights were not part of those deeds.
By the time the land was acquired by Headen in 1976, Reynolds stated, water rights to the land had not been mentioned in previous deeds, so there were no water rights transferred.
Reynolds is giving each side of the issue 30 days to respond to his tentative decision – that grants summary judgment in favor of the state engineer.

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