Law of the Rio Chama


Viola Sanchez

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Storage and release for the Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos has taken place at El Vado Reservoir since the reservoir was first used in 1935. No distinction was made between the lands being served and their appurtenant water rights in storage and delivery in the early years of El Vado operation. El Vado storage and release for Indian lands became an issue at least as early as 1948 because of Rio Grande Compact restrictions on El Vado releases. As a result of this and other alleged Rio Grande Compact violations by New Mexico, Texas filed a Supreme Court lawsuit, Texas v. New Mexico No. 9, Original, in October 1951. The case was never decided on its merits. Notwithstanding the legal and technical challenges involved with storage and release for Indian lands at El Vado during times of Rio Grande Compact restrictions, El Vado storage and release of water for the prior and paramount lands has continued to this day.

One of the oddities about the practice is that unused storage for Indian lands is not carried over from one year to the next. In some cases it is not carried over from one month to the next. This is not a typical practice in reservoir operations. This article will focus on legal reasoning and evidence that may have led to this practice. Background material and analysis is presented on (1) carryover storage; (2) Indian prior and paramount and newly reclaimed water rights; (3) the Rio Grande Compact; (4) the 1981 El Vado Storage Agreement; (5) El Vado ownership and operation; (6) El Vado inflow hydrology and shortages; (7) the permits that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District obtained from the New Mexico State Engineer and New Mexico Commissioner for the Rio Grande Compact. A discussion on whether carryover storage can be allowed in the future is also included.


Natural Resources Journal



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