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New Mexico Supreme Court Rules that Water Diverted in Colorado But Put to Beneficial Use Within New Mexico is Subject to New Mexico State Engineer’s Jurisdiction

New Mexico has confronted numerous interstate water issues. In virtually all of the cases, New Mexico was the upstream state. On the Pecos River, New Mexico has litigated over-deliveries to Texas. (See, Texas v. New Mexico, 482 U.S. 124 (1987).) It has been involved in litigation over the Canadian River with Texas and Oklahoma. (See, Oklahoma v. New Mexico, 501 U.S. 221 (1991).) And, it has a key case pending involving over-deliveries of water in the Lower Rio Grande to Texas. (See, Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 220141, Original.)

Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court decided a case wherein New Mexico is the downstream state involving the Animas River. On September 22, 2016, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an Opinion upholding the regulatory powers of the New Mexico State Engineer vis a vis enjoining unlawful diversions of permitted water rights. The Court held that the State Engineer’s jurisdiction extends to water rights applied to all land in New Mexico, rejecting the Petitioner’s argument that the State Engineer lacked jurisdiction because, inter alia, the water at issue is initially diverted from the Animas River in Colorado and flows to New Mexico via the Ralston Ditch. [State Engineer of New Mexico v. Diamond K Bar Ranch, LLC, Case No. S-1-SC-35446, slip. op. (N.M. Sept. 22, 2016).]

This latest water law Opinion from the New Mexico Supreme Court appears to follow New Mexico water case law’s policy conclusions to their anticipated end by upholding the State Engineer’s broad regulatory authority over the exercise of water rights and transfers within the borders of the State of New Mexico.

(Christina Bruff)