On Thursday, October 13, 2011, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases challenging the state statutes on domestic wells. The cases essentially challenge the Constitutionality of several state statutes that mandate that the Office of the State Engineer approve applications for domestic wells. The second related case argues that under the prior appropriation doctrine, domestic wells should be assigned a priority date. Currently, they are not assigned a priority date. The debate affects farmers, tribes, and other owners of old and senior water rights as domestic wells have proliferated. The impact of domestic wells on the overall supply of water has also increased as drought conditions have become more prevalent.
The case arose when Horace and Jo Bounds in the Mimbres Valley sued the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). The Bounds owned senior water rights on an acequia and claimed their rights were being adversely impacted by numerous unregulated domestic wells that were drying up the river flow. The OSE had also declared the water in the Mimbres to be “fully appropriated.” The Bounds argue that if that were the case, any wells, including domestic ones, would further draw from a fully appropriated system. A state district court had found the domestic well law to be unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau filed briefs in support of the Bounds, stating that the Bureau is never notified when new domestic wells are drilled. It is not known when the New Mexico Supreme Court will render its decision, but a decision in favor of the Bounds would affect tens of thousands of domestic wells within the state.
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