Four New Mexico Pueblos and Secretary Salazar Finalize Historic Aamodt Water Rights Case

Four Pueblo tribes in New Mexico finalized a water rights settlement known as New Mexico v. Aamodt on March 14.

In a historic settlement, four Pueblo tribes in New Mexico on March 14 had reason to celebrate following the finalization of New Mexico v. Aamodt and settling water rights disputes that have been ongoing.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn joined New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez and leaders of the Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque and San Ildefonso pueblos at the Santa Fe Indian School to execute the settlement documents according to White House press release.

“By executing this settlement [March 14] and reaching agreement on five other water rights settlements since 2009, we not only have closed the chapter on these longstanding water disputes, but also opened a new chapter in Indian country – delivering clean drinking water and certainty to water users across the West while providing more than $2 billion to help tribes,” Salazar said.

“I also am proud of the water settlements achieved under President Obama,” Washburn said during the ceremony. “The settlements like this one we celebrate today in my home state of New Mexico will bring both drinking water and hope to Indian communities. The ‘Aamodt’ water rights settlement resolves four decades of litigation and will create jobs through much-needed infrastructure investments.”

Tribal leaders who were in attendance during the ceremony were: Phillip Perez, Governor, Pueblo of Nambe; Mark Mitchell, Governor, Pueblo of Tesuque; George Rivera, Governor, Pueblo of Pojoaque; and Terry Aguilar, Governor, Pueblo of San Ildefonso. Other tribal and state dignitaries present on the historic day were: Charles Dorame, Chairman, Northern Pueblos Tributary Water Rights Association and Former Governor, Tesuque Pueblo; Kathy Holian, Chair of the Santa Fe County Commission; David Coss, Mayor, City of Santa Fe; and other local and state officials.

The Aamodt case has often been considered the longest-running case in the federal court system and settles the case concerning water rights related to the Rio Pojoaque Basin north of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the homeland of the four pueblos. The settlement brings closure to the Pueblos’ water rights and clarity for non-Indian water rights in north central New Mexico according to the release.

Included in the settlement are innovative mechanisms to manage water in the Pojoaque River basin to meet the Pueblos’ current and future needs while keeping disruption to a minimum for non-Indian water users. The settlement includes the state of New Mexico, Santa Fe County, the city of Santa Fe and many other water users. Aamodt was one of four water rights settlements President Barack Obama signed legislation for in the 2010 Claims Resolution Act in regards to clean drinking water to tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana. The others in the legislation were: the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement provisions, the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement provisions, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Quantification provisions.

In the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act Obama included two other settlements – the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects, settling claims of the Navajo Nation in the San Juan River system in New Mexico; and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley Water Rights Settlement, settling the tribe’s water rights in Nevada.