Water in rivers is OK

  Water can remain in New Mexican rivers and still be "beneficial," says state Attorney General Tom Udall. Up until his decision last month, water rights could be lost unless water was diverted from a stream, and thereby put to beneficial use. Udall's ruling opens the door to marketing water rights for environmental protection, which also opens a controversial issue: Where will the water come from?

Small-scale agricultural cooperatives fear their irrigation systems, acequias, are the answer. New Mexico Acequia Association consultant John Brown says there's not enough water now for the state's 800 acequias. "If more water bypasses acequias because it is sold for instream flow," he says, "there won't be enough water to fill acequia ditches and all parciantes (farmers) would suffer."

Steve Harris, river-rafter and director of Rio Grande Restoration, says acequia needs and instream flow rights need not conflict, though "some acequias are convinced that environmentalists intend to steal their water." He and other conservationists are hopeful that a "water bank" can help acequias, wildlife and recreationists.

*JT Thomas

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