Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

SCOTUS to hear oral argument on Rio Grande Case

The nation’s highest court will hear federal objections against a deal to end more than a decade of litigation over the Rio Grande, according to a U.S. Supreme Court order issued Monday.

First filed in the high court in 2014, the lawsuit centers on allegations by Texas that New Mexico’s groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Dam siphoned off Rio Grande water allocated legally to Texas.

Texas alleged that New Mexico was violating the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement set in 1938 that splits the river’s waters between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The agreement, ratified by Congress in 1939, also notes federal agreements with Pueblos and its federal treaty with Mexico. The case is formally called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, but the allegations stem between Texas and New Mexico.

 No clear dates

There is no clear scheduling for when oral arguments will take place, and spokespeople at the supreme court directed Source NM to lawyers in the case. We’ll update the story as we know more. 

The lawsuit itself sparked from years of legal battles in lower courts that sprung up after severe droughts shocked the region in the early 2000s.

As the case slowly winds its way through the court system, taxpayers are on the bill for tens of millions of dollars. Those legal fees are determining issues such as allowing the federal government to intervene as a party member in the case in 2019. 

Last year, U.S. 8th Circuit Judge Michael Melloy, the special master who is overseeing the case, heard arguments from attorneys representing the three states on a compromise plan to resolve the case. https://sourcenm.com/category/special-series-rio-grande/

Parts of the compromise plan would include moving the delivery of Texas water from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, to the Texas state line, and include new guidelines for adjusting to drought conditions. To prepare for the deal, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer said it would have to cut 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater pumping from below Elephant Butte, a heavily agricultural area.

Attorneys representing the federal government objected that the deal was made without its consent and would overreach by requiring federal agencies to change operations.

Melloy recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court sign off the states’ deal, over the federal government’s objections.

In his 123-page report, Melloy concluded that the proposed plan was “fair and reasonable” and said the federal government’s objections could be resolved in state courts and other proceedings.

The federal government filed formal objections against Melloy’s report in the Supreme Court. These are supported by the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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