Wa­ter Law in New Mex­ico

Catron Courier - - News -

by Philip Chan­dler, At­tor­ney at Law

There are few, if any, more com­pli­cated ar­eas of the law than wa­ter law. Not only is it com­pli­cated, it is also of the high­est im­por­tance, es­pe­cially in con­di­tions of wa­ter scarcity. Its com­plex­ity and im­por­tance have led the ju­di­ciary to as­sign one dis­trict judge in each of the ju­di­cial dis­tricts to serve as the wa­ter law judge. Res­i­dents of Ca­tron County—and, in­deed, res­i­dents of the en­tire Sev­enth Ju­di­cial Dis­trict—are lucky that the Hon­or­able Matthew G. Reynolds is our wa­ter law judge. Judge Reynolds pub­lished a com­pre­hen­sive and very read­able es­say, “Trial and Er­ror: How Courts Have Shaped Prior Ap­pro­pri­a­tion in New Mex­ico,” in the Win­ter, 2017, edi­tion of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Jour­nal. Any­one who wishes to un­der­stand a sub­ject that is of im­por­tance to all of us would do well to read Judge Reynold’s es­say. Here is the link: dig­i­tal­repos­i­tory.unm.edu/cgi/ view­con­tent.cgi? ar­ti­cle=1328&con­text=nrj

It would be im­pos­si­ble even to sum­ma­rize in a brief ar­ti­cle the salient points that guide courts in mak­ing wa­ter law de­ci­sions. Let me sim­ply state here that the prin­ci­ples of prior ap­pro­pri­a­tion and ben­e­fi­cial use are fairly easy to grasp in the­ory, but are vex­ing to ap­ply in prac­tice. Th­ese prin­ci­ples came into use in the West for the sim­ple rea­son that wa­ter law char­ac­ter­is­tic of England and the East­ern United States turned out to be in­ad­e­quate to our con­di­tions of rel­a­tive wa­ter scarcity. Given the in­creas­ing calls on our wa­ter re­sources, sur­face and un­der­ground, there re­mains work to be done by our leg­is­la­ture. As Judge Reynolds con­cludes, “the leg­is­la­ture must en­sure that our statutes and fund­ing for their im­ple­men­ta­tion match the ur­gency of New Mex­ico’s crit­i­cal wa­ter needs.”

( Philip Chan­dler prac­tices law in Re­serve, NM and can be reached at 575-4040343.) ●◊●

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