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US files brief on New Mexico-Texas water dispute December 12, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Obama administration is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take a middle-ground approach on a water dispute between Texas and New Mexico over management of the Rio Grande.
A brief filed Tuesday by the U.S. solicitor general's office didn't take sides in the interstate dispute but said the Supreme Court should leave the door open for a quick resolution, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/19hqaUS ).
The Supreme Court should take up the case as Texas wants but also adopt a procedural approach that gives New Mexico a chance to quickly get decisions on key issues and try to get the case dismissed, the office urged.
Texas contends that groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico means Texas water users are being deprived of Rio Grande water, while New Mexico argues that Texas is getting what's required under a compact between the states and that the Supreme Court should let other courts consider the dispute.
The federal government has a stake in the case because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operates Elephant Butte Reservoir, which is used for delivery of much of the water involved in the dispute.
Texas has accused New Mexico of allowing illegal diversions of surface and underground water of the Rio Grande near the Texas-New Mexico border. Texas officials say those diversions take away water from farmers and residents in and around El Paso, a drought-stricken area that gets about half of its drinking water and most of its irrigation water from the Rio Grande.
New Mexico also has been struggling with severe drought and above-normal temperatures for the past three years.
The fight hinges on a 2008 agreement between the federal government and two irrigation districts, one in Texas and the other in New Mexico, that use water from the Elephant Butte reservoir. The issue has been ongoing since the 1980s.
Historically, one lawsuit states, New Mexico received about 57 percent of the water from the reservoir, while Texas got the remaining 43 percent.