Diary of a Congresswoman

Mary-Charlotte Domandi:
So one piece of very big news right now is that our own new Mexican Deb Haaland was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, which is huge news because the first native American, first native American cabinet member, and this kind of dovetails into a listener question that I got a few days ago, which was about water. And the listener said, you guys back in Washington, don’t understand water in the West because it’s so dry here and it’s so wet over there. So how do people in Washington thinking about making good water policy and where does that policy come from? Will it be led by, for example, the department of the interior or Congress or some combination.
Teresa Leger Fernandez:
So I think it’s really important to understand a couple of things regarding water. One is that there are various jurisdictions over water. In New Mexico and throughout, states have jurisdiction over the use of water. You know, in New Mexico, we have the first use doctrine, and the state engineer control all issues with regards to who has a water, right? Where can it be used? Can it be transferred? And then we have the acequias, who also have jurisdiction over water if that water right is tied to an acequia. And acequias by the way, are my favorite… they, to me represent what communities should be, because they did all this really hard work to create this Acequia with shovels and plows. And they maintained it to the present day, and they work communally and then they each get their benefit. But they also, we know that acequias have waters dwindling in terms of flowing in the acequias.
So then what’s the federal role? The federal role, really, is what do we do to make sure that our water is not contaminated? What can we do to encourage–we don’t have jurisdiction to say who owns the water, but we have the ability to encourage practices that conserve water. And we have the obligation to protect our water with the Clean Water Act. And so we understand, I think that a lot of people do understand water in Congress it’s, though, that Congress doesn’t control who owns the water. But we have a huge role to play in making sure that our water is clean and that we are making sure we conserve water and making sure that we address climate change so that places like New Mexico don’t turn into the Sonoran desert as we talked about before. So that’s the role that we play.
Now, secretary Haaland, Ooh, it’s so wonderful to say that isn’t it? Secretary Haaland is going to have a big role to play with regards to tribal water rights, because there are going to be in New Mexico and throughout this country, lots of negotiations between tribes who own water rights and non-tribal entities, including the feds and the state and private owners and acequias as to where there is definitely not enough water and who actually has the tribal rights. And she is going to be charged with helping guide those negotiations, those water settlement agreements. And then the federal government. Once there is a water rights agreement between non-Indian users of an adjudication or a settlement, then our job will be to help facilitate that settlement. In Taos, Taos is a good example of where they spent years, decades, coming up with something. And then they all agreed, right? And there is actually great relationship–you know, it’s not perfect, but there’s good relationship between Taos Pueblo and the town of Taos and independent water users. And the federal government stepped in and facilitated the water rights settlement by providing federal resources. They’ve done that in Aamodt, they’ve done that up in Jicarilla, they’ve done that in Navajo. They are going to have to do that across the country. That will be our role, will be to provide the funding to facilitate those water settlements.
Another part of the question that this listener asked, expressed concern over the privatization of water and the question of whether private equity firms can start buying up water rights and then withholding them from the people who need it most. And of course, there’s like an environmental justice aspect to that. And we’ve seen so many issues with the privatization of water in other countries. There was a huge issue in Bolivia some years ago, and also Nestle buying up municipal water rights and then going into people’s reservoirs and using those to make bottled water. So it’s a question–I mean, there’s the question, as you said, of who owns the water, there’s the question of clean water, then there’s these other questions of dealing with adjudications, but this privatization issue–has that come up for you? Has it been concerned so far?
Those are huge issues on a national basis. Uh, I mean an international basis, the reality is water rights are held by the public entities or by private entities and it can be the water right,the ability to take the water and use it in a place of diversion, the purpose and place of diversion, is something that is subject to state law. And so this is where the state of New Mexico and where, if we’re concerned about that, we need to raise this at the state level. In New Mexico, for the most part, I’m not aware of any, but I can’t say authoritatively, whether there was any municipality that doesn’t actually provide its own citizens with water. Most of the ones that I’m familiar with do. Santa Fe provides water and Gallup. And what the federal government is doing in those instances is providing the money to build the infrastructure to assist the Gallup pipeline issues, to assist on the East side with the infrastructure. Those are the issues that I think we need to talk about. Those are the issues that we are facing. And so I would prefer to focus on what do we needed to talk about in New Mexico, funding the big infrastructure projects to allow people to access water, either through municipality or through their own domestic wells or, or the means.
Anything else about water that you want to let people know about?
Well, I love water. Agua es vida, y acequias son comunidad. Water is life and acequias are community. I mean, that was one of the things that I ran on because to me it’s symbol of water is life. And those acequias or whatever, is it municipality or is it the tribal entity providing the water to the people for whatever its purpose, is how you build community. So I believe in that concept of agua es vida, y acequias comunidad, water is necessary for life and recognizing that we need to have a community process for making sure it’s available to everybody for ranching and farming and domestic is really important. I think we should be very concerned about use of potable water for industrial uses or oil and gas uses because we don’t have a lot of potable water in New Mexico. So we have to recognize that it is a very precious resource.
And this has come up during the New Mexico legislative session. And it’s something that we will continue to follow.