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State fears federal control of groundwater

US Bureau of Reclamation

A legal battle over water in the lower Rio Grande has New Mexico accusing the federal government of trying to take control of the state’s groundwater.

In a filing in the Third District Court in Las Cruces recently, the Bureau of Reclamation said it should be able to pump groundwater when it needs to deliver water in the Rio Grande to downstream users, such as farmers.

That raised the hackles of New Mexico state legislators, and others, including the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. That office controls the state’s groundwater.

According to the State Engineer’s Office, the lower Rio Grande isn’t the only place the federal government is threatening state control. 

In an email, public information officers stated the federal government is pursuing three other legal “theories” that could undermine New Mexico’s control of its groundwater.

Those include the cleanup of a mine in northern New Mexico, endangered species management in the Middle Rio Grande, and US claims related to tribal water rights in the state.