Monday, February 1, 2010

Yes, there is a law - several

Back to the issue of water and the west. Water, because of increasing demands on aquifers and surface water, will become a serious problem in most of the world. Even rainfall amounts are decreasing because of the clear cutting of rain forests in the tropical belt.

But I know best about my own backyard which is currently flooded because the man living downstream two lots decided to dam the little Coyote so he could have a pond. It was this summer a fairly crudely built dam and our major issue was a water thief that was diverting water two lots up stream and not putting it back until it skipped over five lots. The state engineer got him to stop his diversion just about the time winter settled in and the creek froze. Which meant the water logged earthen dam built down stream also froze. Which made it a lot more effective.

Now we have more water than we want. The Little Coyote topped its three to four foot banks and is spreading out across the lowlands to widths of 30 and 40 feet and about a third of my property. Upstream of me it is lapping at the sides of County Road B3 (Osha Road). And now we are a bit beyond the mandate of the state engineer's office.

New Mexico governs its water quite closely. The early Spanish settlers set up an acequia or water ditch system that carefully meted out surface water on the basis of acreage of land used for grazing and agriculture. The Mayordomo, or ditch boss, made assessments at the spring run off every year as to just how much water it appeared would be available for use. People that stole water, wasted water, spoiled water or impounded water were criminals on the level of horse and cattle thieves. Mike Nichols wrote humorously about it in his book Milagro Bean Field War. But it is a deadly serious topic here in the mountain west. People have been killed over less.

The problems arise in getting transplants for other states to take it seriously. "It is just water," is likely to be said by a Texan that relocated to the Sangre de Cristos and sees what appears to be abundance here as opposed to the panhandle. In the immortal words of John Wayne, "Those are fighting words." Here their are water rights, both surface and subsurface, and there are wrongs. Nobody owns a stream. You just borrow it as it rushes past you. And technically the same amount of water that entered your land has to exit it.

But at the moment we are into a jurisdictional issue. The stream is governed by the state engineer as part of the Mora Watershed. Fish and game also have a say because my tiny little trickle in mid summer is a nursery for baby Brown Trout. And then the EPA gets a say because the Little Coyote passes through a wetland which is protected by law. My property on the far side of the stream is marsh and attracts the most wonderful collection of birds and a species of the endangered salamander. Then there is Colfax County and the road department. The water is backing up through the culverts under a county road and forming another lake which daily keeps rising.

And it is a warm February. We keep having these little wet snows high in moisture and then warm days that melt it off and it all heads downstream - well, as far as that dam made for that pond which is impounding water and definitely impeding flow. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter of The Incident of the Little Coyote soon to be a major motion picture.

Meanwhile I am e-mailing this blog to all relevant authorities.