Judge Maintains Previous Verdict

........................................................................................................................................................................................

SOCORRO — A state District Court judge upheld a decision to keep Augustin Plains Ranch LLC from appropriating 54,000 acre-feet of public groundwater per year from the San Augustin basin in Catron County on Nov. 16.

The ranch had filed an appeal in April, seeking to overturn the New Mexico engineer's decision to deny the application.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which represents more than 80 residents from the area, had filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the application.

"Our clients are very pleased with the decision," said Bruce Frederick of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. "The judge's decision confirmed what 150 years of water law has already established — you can't take the public's water unless you have a concrete beneficial use for the water.

"This corporation is trying to hoard the water until its value increased enough to justify selling it. The decision today is an important step towards protecting New Mexico from rampant water speculation."

The application, which was first filed in 2007, was originally protested by close to 1,000 individuals, ranches, businesses and government agencies. The protestors had a variety of concerns, including that the application would impair existing water rights, deplete flows in the Rio Grande and Gila River stream systems, dry up springs and harm fragile ecologies.

The state engineer denied Augustin Plains Ranch's application for several reasons, including that the application omitted basic critical details required by law — how, when, where and in what quantities the corporation intended to use water.

"The corporation may petition a higher court for relief," Frederick said, "and if it does, we will continue to work to protect New Mexico's most precious resource from those who wish to monopolize it."