Eminent domain could affect water rights: El Defensor Chieftain (Socorro NM), 7/5/06

By Argen Duncan

Board members of a group that works to protect private water rights spoke at a general meeting concerning signs that eminent domain could affect those rights.

In response to a question at a recent Rio Grande Water Rights Association meeting at the Socorro County Fairgrounds, water rights consultant and board member Suzanne Smith said the City of Alamogordo is attempting to condemn water rights. She also said Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed a bill that would have protected private property against eminent domain, which allows the government to take private property at a price without the owner's permission.

Board member Martin Haynes said the City of Albuquerque can condemn water rights, but a new project allows the city to divert an amount of water that will probably satisfy its demands for years.

Board member Dick Ritter said a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2005 sets a precedent for the government to take anything. In Kelo vs. City of New London, justices ruled that the constitution places no bar on local governments taking private property for development work.

Smith said she has seen the state engineer, who sets policy for New Mexico rivers and groundwater, take the position that someone who wants to buy water rights from a person whose well was on state land should make an offer to the state Land Office rather than the well owner.

She also said the state engineer no longer allows people to transfer groundwater rights from one well to another because of the position that all water diversions affect the Rio Grande. The state recently approved a permit with the conditions that officials could later decide the diversions affect the river and the owner has to acquire an old water right to use the water.

"You have no stability," she said.

El Defensor Chieftain: http://www.dchieftain.com