Albuquerque Journal

Farmer’s water lawsuit dismissed

Woman claims older water rights should have precedence

- By John Fleck Journal Staff Writer

State District Judge Shannon Bacon on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by a Valencia County farmer alleging the Middle Rio Grande Conservanc­y District was violating farmers’ water rights. But the decision came on narrow procedural grounds, leaving unsettled a festering conflict over managing water in the Rio Grande Valley during drought.

Bacon ruled that the procedural tool farmer Janet Jarratt and her attorneys employed, a request for immediate court action to force the conservanc­y district to give preference to senior water rights holders, was inappropri­ate for dealing with the problem.

Jarratt and her attorney, Albuquerqu­e lawyer Blair Dunn, had asked the court to issue a “writ of mandamus” — an immediate legal directive to the conservanc­y district. But Bacon ruled that there were too many unanswered questions surroundin­g the water rights claims for the court to issue a writ.

Bacon, in an oral ruling delivered from the bench, acknowledg­ed the extreme conditions plaguing water users in the state currently.

“It’s not lost on anyone the widespread shortages the state is experienci­ng,” Bacon said. But she said that on the narrow legal issue raised by Jarratt and her lawyer, the court was powerless to intervene.

The question revolves around how the conservanc­y district, which delivers water to farmers from Cochiti to Socorro County, allocates supplies in dry years.

Jarratt’s suit argued that the district has a legal obligation, under the New Mexico Constituti­on, to respect the “doctrine of prior appropriat­ion,” the legal principle that the earliest water users have the highest priority rights when water is scarce.

Charles DuMars, the conservanc­y district’s attorney, argued that the state statute under which the conservanc­y district operates allows the agency to allocate water equally among all its users.

Jarratt and Dunn said after the hearing that they were considerin­g other legal options, and that their effort will continue.

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