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Pueblo to share water rights under settlement agreement

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The parties in two long-standing Indian water rights disputes are one step closer to settling their cases now that Taos Pueblo has signed an agreement to share its San Juan-Chama Project water with four other pueblos.

Taos Pueblo agreed to take less than the 2,990 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water originally set aside by the federal government for resolution of its water-rights claims with the town of Taos and Taos Valley acequia groups.

Now, some of the water will go to the pueblos of Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambe and San Ildefonso to fulfill a settlement agreement in the Aamodt water-rights case in the Pojoaque Basin.

Taos Pueblo's decision helps move the settlements to Congress, which must pass legislation approving the agreements and providing funding to implement them.

Taos Pueblo Gov. Gilbert Suazo said it wasn't an easy decision for the northern New Mexico tribe to give up some of its water rights.

''We had a marathon session [in early June] to reach agreement not only with Aamodt parties but among ourselves,'' Suazo said We're anxious to move forward with seeking legislation in Congress for our settlement.''

Both settlements called for additional water for the pueblos and, in the Aamodt case, for Santa Fe County. The U.S. Department of Interior had told parties in both cases they needed to make do with available water rights.

In the Aamodt settlement, the parties needed to identify 2,500 acre-feet of water for the pueblos and 1,500 for Santa Fe County. About 3,000 acre-feet of water was needed for the Taos Pueblo water-rights claims. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons.

''Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne challenged the pueblos and governments to adjust their water needs to fit within the already-identified supply, and after intense negotiations they succeeded,'' Gov. Bill Richardson said June 14 in a news release.

Suazo wouldn't say how much of San Juan-Chama water Taos Pueblo relinquished, but Richardson's office said the parties had found a way to meet 90 percent of the water needs in both settlements.

The San Juan-Chama Project diverts water from the San Juan River to the Chama River, which drains into the Rio Grande. Several towns and tribes contract for the water, including Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.