New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) was winding down a long and busy 30th year, when three cases suddenly came out in their clients’ favor.
On Dec 13th, at a hearing on their motion for summary judgment held at the Catron County courthouse, the State Water Rights Division said that the Augustin Plains Ranch application to mine 54,000 acre feet per year of groundwater was speculative and should be denied. The final decision rests with the State Engineer; approval could make it much easier to privatize NM’s groundwater. On December 27th, the State Court of Appeals rebuked the Water Quality Control Commission and the Secretary of the Environment Department (Ryan Flynn at the time) for denying three requests for a public hearing made by NMELC’s client, Communities for Clean Water, during the process for Los Alamos National Lab’s discharge permit associated with the Lab’s chromium plume. The Court emphasized how critical public hearings are for effective public participation. The next day, the Third District Court (Las Cruces) reduced water rights holdings claimed by two water sellers associated with the Copper Flat Mine near Hillsboro from 7,500 acre feet to 870 acre feet, protecting future community use of the water.
NMELC looks forward to another successful year in 2018.