By Don Wiltshire
Don’t look now but the State Engineer has a gun pointed directly at our collective heads. By the time you read this, the Preliminary Hearing will have taken place. The only thing that will have been decided is just when and where the State Engineer will take aim at us again. The application being discussed is whether or not the San Augustin Ranch has the right to withdraw a quarter of a mile cube of water every year from the San Augustin Basin and sell it to whomever they want to.
The Cordova Public Relations Company was hired by the Ranch to produce the “Background Memorandum: Augustin Ranch Aquifer Evaluation and Water Development Project” back in 2007. The report stressed just how beneficial this plan would be to provide water to all of New Mexico and that our water rights and access would not be impacted in the slightest. The report went on to point out that there was enough water out there to last us for 300 years. That’s a total volume of water of nearly five cubic miles. So the State Engineer must decide if those five cubic miles of water exist to benefit Bruno Modena, the owner of the Ranch, and his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren or if the water should remain in Catron and Socorro Counties to benefit us, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The decision is his alone and whether or not he squeezes the trigger remains to be seen.
Bruno is being represented in this case by John B Draper, Esq. and Jeffrey J. Wechsler, Esq. from Montgomery & Andrews, P.A. in Santa Fe. A quick Google reveals that this law firm has won numerous cases including the approval for Louisiana Energy Services (LES) to construct and operate the National Enrichment Facility (NEF) in Lea County near Eunice, N.M. LES is a subsidiary of Urenco, a partnership of the Dutch government, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., several German utilities and two United States energy companies. Urenco controls 25% of the worldwide uranium enrichment market. It was also accused, in 2004, of selling sensitive uranium enrichment technology to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya.
The NEF opened its doors last June with much fanfare and political rhetoric but it still has no plan in place to dispose of its 4,800 tons per year of chemically contaminated depleted uranium waste. Good choice for your legal representation, Bruno!
The Protestants (the “good guys” in this case) are no lightweights either. There are twenty legal teams in place, representing Socorro County, the Catron County Board of County Commissioners, the University of New Mexico, the US Department of the Interior, the NM Interstate Stream Commission, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the NM Commissioner of Public Lands, the Department of Game & Fish, the Navajo Nation, the Pueblos of Acoma, Kewa, Santa Ana, San Felipe, Isleta & Sandia, Kokopelli Ranch LLC, Last Chance Water Company, Monticello Community Ditch, Luna Irrigation Ditch, Santa Terecita Ranch and my personal favorite, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, representing 69 individuals and business entities. There are also 129 pro se ProTESTants ( not to be confused with PROTestants, the religion) who will be advocating on their own behalf before the court.
The entire process promises to stretch well into 2012 or 2013 by the time everyone gets their two cents ($25?) worth in and gets cross examined. After two years of this grief and nonsense, we may all feel like throwing in the towel and giving Bruno his five cubic miles of water. Go ahead, pull that trigger!
On a lighter note, our last Water Meeting of the year will take place on Wednesday, November 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the Magdalena Public Library. Frank Titus, the “Grandfather of New Mexico Hydrology” will give a presentation on just what lies below the San Augustin Plains. How much water is there? How fast does it move? How soon will we start to feel the effects of this hair-brained scheme? Come, join us; practice your court deposition; get cross examined; then let the festivities begin!