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Environmental Blog

  • 22
  • July
  • 2016

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Texas/New Mexico Water Fight May Make It to the U.S. Supreme Court

The longstanding dispute between Texas and New Mexico with regard to water apportionment from the Rio Grande might make it to the Supreme Court after all. Approximately three and a half years ago, Texas filed a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico was taking too much water from the Rio Grande in violation of the Rio Grande Compact and the Rio Grande Project Act, which allegedly allocate the Rio Grande water among the three parties.1

Amicus curiae briefs were filed by many in this case, including the United States. In April of 2014, New Mexico filed a motion to dismiss Texas' Complaint and the United States' Complaint in Intervention. A. Gregory Grimsal of New Orleans, Louisiana was thereafter appointed as Special Master in November of 2014 to, among other things, take evidence and issue reports. Last week, the special master, Mr. Grimsal, issued a draft report recommending that the Supreme Court deny New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the complaint and also to dismiss the federal motion “to the extent that it fails to state a claim” under the Compact.

What this means? This is perceived as a victory for Texas. If the Supreme Court takes the case and finds in favor of Texas, then the Court could effectively limit the amount of water taken out of the Rio Grande (and in the nearby groundwater wells connected to the Rio Grande) by New Mexico citizens. The Court also could subject New Mexico to monetary damages for the water Texas should have been receiving in the past. This case has the potential to affect interstate and international matters, given that Mexico also is provided with water under a 1906 treaty that was upheld by the Project.

What’s next? Each party has until August 1, 2016, to submit comments to the special master on his report. The special master can still make changes before submitting his recommendations to the Supreme Court. Even if the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case, it could take years before it is decided. Although the three year wait may continue, the special master recommending that the case move forward is a huge step toward a potential decision.

1 See Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado (No. 22-0141)

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