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June 2024

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Water Is Life. Let’s Work Together To Protect It

OPINION EDITORIAL:

This Op Ed references the article written and published in the Taos News on Thursday, April 25. The Questa del Rio News obtained permission to re-run the original story to avoid any potential conflict of interest as the Questa Economic Development Fund provides partial funding for the Questa del Rio News.

Click here to read the Taos News coverage.

The Questa Economic Development Fund has been acting as a convenor since April 2023 to bring together the 15 acequia groups in the Questa area to explore a proposed “Area-Wide Acequia Association.”

The key objective of establishing the regional association, as described in the informational one-pager distributed throughout the community over the past year, is to “Protect and preserve local water rights, and the culture and acequia heritage for all parciantes’ ownership, and the health of the land.”


At the 7th area-wide acequia association public meeting, held in January 2024, the acequias agreed to go back to their parciantes and let them decide about the regional association, as well as to choose if they would appoint a representative to a steering committee being formed in May to determine the possible development and direction of the regional organization.


It was communicated that Judy Torres, the director of the Taos Valley Acequia Association, who QEDF hired to function as a consultant on the project, would facilitate the Steering Committee without involvement, input, or influence from QEDF — nor Chevron.


Before the first steering committee meeting could be held, a separate effort, organized by Juan Montes and the Cabresto Lake Irrigation Community Ditch Association, held an “informational” meeting on April 18 to create their own steering committee, unbeknownst to the QEDF and Torres.


The meeting at the Questa VFW began with a 30-minute skit presented by the NM Acequia Association that slated “The Queen of the Acequias” against “Evil Oil and Gas” who is trying to “buy up all our water rights ” After setting this tone, it was clear that the meeting was more about “don’t take money from oil and gas – let’s get Chevron out of our area water issues,” rather than “how can we work together to protect our water.”


While Chevron has accepted full financial responsibility — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over many decades — to clean up the mine that “contaminated” the area for more than 75 years before they purchased it, they are also offering $160,000 over three years to help the 15 acequias form a regional association to help protect their water rights.


Why do these have to be mutually exclusive?


Before the mine closed in 2014, Chevron created the non-profit QEDF “to support the transition of Questa and the surrounding community to a diversified, sustainable post-mining economy.” Since then, Chevron has invested millions into the community through the QEDF in support of hundreds of projects.
In fact, Chevron has been one of the strongest advocates for water issues in our area for over the past decade.


Chevron funding created the award-winning Eagle Rock Lake Park; they have restored the Red River which flourishes; Chevron built a state-of-the art water treatment plant that processes over a million gallons of water every day to prevent additional water contamination during mine clean-up, and into perpetuity.
Chevron recently donated $140,000 to the Village of Questa to have the engineering completed for a new municipal well. Chevron is in negotiations with the Office of the State Engineer to retain historic water rights they feel they are legally entitled to — water rights they want to donate to the Village of Questa and make available to the community, instead of losing them permanently to the state.


Chevron representatives have explicitly stated that “there are no strings attached” to the $160,000. “Chevron places no conditions on the establishment of the regional association and will not have a role in its governance structure or operations — the disbursement of the next $50,000 will go directly to the newly created organization, who will decide how those funds are used.”


Just as Chevron is not providing any direction to the Village on where or how deep the new well should be, Chevron will not be involved in the development, operations, or decisions of the regional acequia association.


Juan Montes states that the “QEDF should not be organizing an area wide acequia association as a front group for Chevron.”


QEDF says, instead of encouraging divisiveness and buying into unsubstantiated threats, the acequias should come together, form a single steering committee, determine the viability of a regional acequia association, and decide how they can best serve their parciantes, protect their land and water rights, with or without Chevron and its funding.


Water is life. Let’s work together to protect it while we still have it to protect.

Author