Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement Mutual-Benefit Projects Environmental Assessment
The Abeyta Settlement Agreement resolved water rights claims in the Taos Valley involved in the general adjudication entitled State of New Mexico ex rel. State Engineer v. Abeyta and Arellano, Nos. 69cv07896 BB and 69cv07939 BB (D.N.M. filed Feb. 4, 1969). Congress approved, ratified, and confirmed the Abeyta Settlement Agreement in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (Title V of Pub. L. 111-291). The Court approved the Settlement Act and Abeyta Settlement Agreement through a Partial Final Decree that is final and non-appealable.
The Settlement Act authorizes and directs the Bureau of Reclamation to provide financial assistance in the form of grants for parties to the Abeyta Settlement Agreement to plan, permit, design, engineer, and construct Mutual-Benefit Projects. This authorization to provide financial assistance is the reason Reclamation must perform National Environmental Policy Act compliance. The Mutual-Benefit Projects are described in Article 6 of the Abeyta Settlement Agreement and involve groundwater wells, water storage, and a stream gage at a surface water diversion.
The parties entered the Abeyta Settlement Agreement to:
- to avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigation;
- to provide finality with respect to the quantification of Taos Pueblo’s water rights;
- to provide an opportunity for non-Pueblo irrigators in the Taos Valley to preserve their Acequias and for other non-Pueblo water rights owners to protect, develop, and maintain their water uses while establishing a means by which the Pueblo may put its decreed right to beneficial use;
- to restore, preserve, and protect the Taos Pueblo Buffalo Pasture; and
- to foster cooperation among all Taos Valley residents regarding the allocation and use of water supplies.
Articles 3 and 6 of the Abeyta Settlement Agreement describe the mutual benefits of entering the Abeyta Settlement Agreement, including the “Mutual-Benefit Projects.”
Congress authorized the Mutual-Benefit Projects to:
- to minimize adverse impacts on the Pueblo’s water resources by moving future non-Indian ground water pumping away from the Pueblo’s Buffalo Pasture; and
- to implement the resolution of a dispute over the allocation of certain surface water flows between the Pueblo and non-Indian irrigation water right owners in the community of Arroyo Seco Arriba.
Settlement Act, Section 507(a). The Buffalo Pasture is the natural wetland located to the north and west of the Pueblo’s traditional village area. This wetland is a critical Pueblo cultural resource on which its members have relied since time immemorial and which it continues to use for cultural and traditional purposes.
Mutual-Benefit Project wells would be located within a 40-acre area, or grid cell, specified in the Abeyta Settlement Agreement. These locations were informed by the results of the Office of the State Engineer Taos Area Groundwater Flow Model (Attachment 3 of the Settlement). The Mitigation Wells would be generally located as indicated by circles around 40-acre grid cells in Attachment 10 to the Abeyta Settlement Agreement. Abeyta Settlement Agreement, Article 188.8.131.52.9. While a 40-acre grid cell or circle is identified for projects to provide flexibility in well and infrastructure siting, the actual footprint of each project is expected to be much less than 40 acres. Additionally, in some instances, the Abeyta Settlement Agreement allows parties to plan the final location of the Mitigation Wells or certain projects outside of 40-acre grid cells, and a further NEPA analysis would need to be performed for such locations once identified and proposed.
The area of analysis for this NEPA compliance is made up of the 40-acre grid cells where the mutual-benefit project wells have been authorized to be located. These locations were determined by the results of the Office of the State Engineer Taos Area Groundwater Flow Model (Attachment 3 of the Settlement). While a 40-acre grid cell is identified for projects to provide flexibility in well and infrastructure siting, the actual footprint of each project is expected to be much less than 40 acres. Additionally, in some instances, the Abeyta Settlement Agreement allows parties to plan the final location of the Mitigation Wells or certain projects outside of 40-acre grid cells, and a further NEPA analysis would need to be performed for such locations once identified and proposed.
- Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement Mutual-Benefit Projects - Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment Link is to a PDF file and Finding of No Significant Impact Link is to a PDF file
- Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement Mutual-Benefit Projects NEPA Compliance - Public Scoping Report Link is to a PDF file
- Public Scoping Meetings Presentation Link is to a PDF file