Friday, January 20, 2012

High court ponders domestic well rights: Two cases challenge statute over constitutional grounds

Staci Matlock
October 13, 2011

New Mexico State Supreme Court justices are deciding whether a pivotal, decades-old state domestic well law violates the state constitution.

The five justices heard oral arguments Thursday in two cases challenging the state statute. Their final decision has far-reaching consequences.

If the justices find the state law is unconstitutional, the legality of tens of thousands of domestic wells in the state would be questionable.

If the court finds the state law doesn't contradict the constitution, a big question remains, one that the justices seemed to say the state Legislature would have to resolve: How to ensure an increasing number of wells don't impair the water available to people with priority rights.

The debate over how domestic wells affect farmers, tribes and others with the oldest, and most senior, water rights in New Mexico has deepened in the last several years as the number of domestic wells has proliferated and drought has further limited an already scarce resource..continued...