handshake By Mariamne Beuscher, communications intern

A long battle over water rights in the Pojoaque River Basin in New Mexico, to the north of Santa Fe, has finally culminated in a settlement that awards high-priority rights to four local pueblos.

After settling the land during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Nambe, Pojoaque, San Idlefonso and Tesuque pueblos used water from the Rio Pojoaque to irrigate their fields. A series of conflicts with the Spanish ended with the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, after which the Spanish government granted 18,000 acres to each pueblo. Spanish farmers began settling the basin in the 1700s and built an acequia (irrigation) system to supply water to their crops.

A lawsuit, which the state originally filed in 1966, sought to legally determine water rights in the basin. At the time the case was first filed, it was unclear which water law applied to the pueblos. Under the Winters Doctrine – a law that allows for a Tribe’s water rights to be linked to the amount of irrigable land on its Reservation – the pueblos would have been granted rights to all of the water in the Pojoaque River Basin. But in 1983 a federal court decided that the Winters Doctrine did not apply.

The case, which is now one of the oldest of its kind, has been on the federal docket for 40 years and involves more than 2,500 parties. The recent settlement includes plans for a regional water system that will supply water from the Rio Grande River to the Nambe, Pojoaque, San Idlefonso and Tesuque pueblos as well as non-Indian consumers. However, the settlement is complicated. Pueblo residents may not be able to afford to hook up to the system, and it will cost at least $250 million to build a water pipeline.

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