San Miguel County Resolution

OP-ED written by Miguel Angel, Michael Coca, William Gonzales, Dr. Eric Romero, Kristin Yount, Arnold Valdez, Hilario E. Romero, Mitch Peters and Ingrid Bond

San Miguel County resolution authors
Some of the resolution’s writers (l-r): Hilario E. Romero, Dr. Eric Romero, Michael Coca, Miguel Angel, Kristin Yount – Photo by Alejandro Lopez

New Mexico is in an ecological and social crisis. Like the rest of the United States, uncontrolled growth and exploitation of the natural environment has placed us in the middle of manmade environmental deterioration, which is edging ever closer to qualifying as a catastrophe.

Extractive industries have been the central cause of global warming /climate change that is the irrefutable scientific reason for the destruction of our most valuable natural and human resources. The political influence that petroleum, gas and mining have exerted over the last 100 years has placed New Mexico in danger of a serious collapse. The corporate political sector has tirelessly and inexorably been at work to achieve control of the state’s most valuable resource, water, for over 100 years now, by nullifying the rights of the traditional Indo-Hispano communities. This has resulted in a social upheaval that has brought chaotic results, which will only worsen the very fiber of our most valued institutions.

It is for this reason that a group of concerned Norteños have been meeting to discuss the reasons for the crisis and to attempt to raise public awareness by showing the public the depth of the problematic issues through the publication of a model county resolution that can be used by citizens to enact local ordinances that will address the hemorrhage. This group of Norteños believes that, as historical stewards of the land for over 500 years, we have an obligation to have more local jurisdiction over our environment, which has been damaged by a combination of corporate greed and political inaction.

Ben Price, National Organizing Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), reviewed the model county resolution we have written and is providing legal assistance in drafting a Community Rights Ordinance for San Miguel County. At issue is the question whether a county faces more liability by enacting a Community Rights Ordinance that could result in potential suits filed by personal property owners and corporations; or does a county face the long-term permanent liability of county citizens suing the county for allowing the destruction of the clean air, water, land and bioregional watersheds?

A Resolution for Consideration by Counties to Establish Community Control of Water, Land Use, Environment and Economic Development

A proposal to be submitted to the San Miguel County Board of County commissioners in June 2018 as a model for counties to legally codify community rights

SECTION I: A historical chronology of water and land rights in San Miguel County since the United States of North America’s conquest and occupation of New Mexico (1846-1912)

The American invasion of Mexico and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo imposed an alien culture, language, legal and judicial systems on Chicanos. A variety of legal and extralegal mechanisms were used to appropriate their land and other possessions. The end result was the emergence of a double standard of justice: one system applied to the Anglo-American and another to the Chicano.

  • Alfredo Mirandé,  Gringo Justice, Notre Dame Press (1987)

The invasion, occupation and chicanery through survey and adjudication of Pueblo, Spanish and Mexican land grants by the U.S. Surveyor General and Court of Private Land Claims during the New Mexican (N.M.) Territorial period (1846–1912) produced devastating consequences for Native American and Spanish/Mexican communities of New Mexico. Traditions and institutions came under direct attack by the U.S. government’s implanted legal system and by illegal economic practices employed by speculators and carpetbaggers, namely, the Santa Fe Ring. The traditional collaborative bartering system was overlaid and supplanted by monetary profit-making systems. Common lands were confiscated by the U.S. government under the process of eminent domain. Less affluent landowners who could not pay property taxes had their land confiscated.

Water rights were incorporated into the New Mexico territorial code of rules written by the occupying force of the United States. Those codes are still present, with water no longer considered a “public good.” All acequias and locally controlled hydraulic systems are guaranteed priority rights from pre-existing Pueblo, Spanish and Mexican institutions because they were involved in legal battles, some lasting up to 170 years.  It is imperative that local, state and federal governments acknowledge these long-proven violations of government policies regarding water rights, in all manifestations. These priority rights must be protected as part of the “commons” reflected in New Mexico state law. Since 1933, the parciantes of the Río de Las Gallinas acequias have lost use of 15,000 acres of agricultural land, constituting a duty of 37,500 acre-feet of water rights, from New Mexico state adjudication, historic development and lack of water due to climate change. This has led to deterioration of the Río de Las Gallinas alluvial cone, acequias, greenbelt, riparian and habitat areas, and has resulted in increased desertification of the Las Vegas and lower Río de Las Gallinas communities.

As climate change continues and urban areas grow and demand more non-agricultural water, we are met with the unconscionable reality that many of our elected officials and decision-makers fail to see that water in San Miguel County and all New Mexico needs to be conserved.  Perhaps this reflects the fact that the public interest is not well represented in policy-level discussions about water in our state. We have good water laws and policies, but they are being intentionally eroded by those who seek short-term gain.

The prevailing economy in New Mexico does not reflect, or respect the deep ethnic history, customs and traditions of the native people. Rather, this system has systematically thwarted, distorted and destroyed much of the infrastructure that existed here for thousands of years. Functional and historic infrastructure has been replaced with a dysfunctional, exclusive, fickle corporate system that benefits extractive industry, outside corporations, the wealthy, and punishes grassroots’ non-profit initiatives.

SECTION II: Necessity for a Comprehensive Water and Land-Use Plan

The immediate threats to New Mexico’s water and land are many:

WHEREAS, the historical basis of human and cultural preservation is access to clean water as a “human right,” an internationally recognized entitlement to a sufficient quantity of water, which is the subsistence needed for survival, health and the public good. Natural rights don’t originate with the state, but within the “ecological context of human existence”;

WHEREAS, Community rights were established before the existence of the State of New Mexico;

WHEREAS, the confiscation and appropriation of common lands and water from the land grant communities constitutes a violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo;

WHEREAS, the communal system of governance and economic development which sustained the Indo-Hispano communities throughout history has been severely transformed by market-driven forces;

WHEREAS, county, state and federal administrations that have inflicted, or will inflict, massive enduring damage to our water supplies through policies that allow for contamination, uncontrolled-growth and increased permitting for industries that rely on methods that are “inherently dangerous to water quality, including fracking, in situ leach mining and unlined waste piles;

WHEREAS, the growing threat of climate change will reduce our precipitation and groundwater recharge, increasing the incidence of forest fires and a threat to our watersheds;

WHEREAS, commodification of water has disrupted the traditional practice of providing water as a right and service and not as a profit-making enterprise;

WHEREAS the relentless privatization of water has decreased the volume and quality of water available to aquatic and riparian zones. These natural areas historically recharged the alluvial cone of the aquifer and provide habitat for trees, birds and animals;

WHEREAS, increasing pressure from water speculators to mine groundwater, matched with a governor and State Engineer who have signaled their willingness to overturn 170 years of public interest-based water policy, the decisions made in the next few years could cause irreversible harm to rural communities and ecosystems forever;

WHEREAS, the first and second phases of the 40-year plan created and approved by Guadalupe, Mora and San Miguel counties need to be revised to favor protective practices;

WHEREAS, the county does not have a comprehensive land, water and forest use plan. Resources within state of New Mexico have been handed over to extractive industries like forest clear cutting, oil and gas exploration and hard rock mining. These industries infringe on water supplies for people and food production. Without local land use policies and regulatory process in place, extractive industries will successfully lobby government and thus undermine the ability of the people to use the land for subsistence farming and community development. Land and water use is an integral component for cultural, community and economic development;

WHEREAS, carcinogenic poisonous plumes from federal and private facilities pose imminent threats to drinking water systems. These toxic plumes can be the byproduct of toxins released through fracking in San Miguel County. In the last 30 years, nationally, there have been 9,000 pipeline related leaks or spill incidents, that have resulted in 548 deaths, 2,516 injuries and $8.5 billion in financial damages to the environment (Richard Stover, astronomer, UCLA, pipeline, and hazardous water safety administration);

WHEREAS, the international community, including a wide spectrum of Native American tribes, Indian Pueblos and tribes of the Americas have given support to the “Water Defenders” at Standing Rock, North Dakota on the continuing issues of water contamination, water theft, and privatization of water;

WHEREAS, there is a growing threat from domestic, as well as international terrorism from poisoning water supplies, instigating fires, or contaminating our environment;

WHEREAS, the cost of gas, oil and electrical energy is increasing and is a major part of living expense for low-income families, due a centralized energy distribution system, susceptible to brownouts and blackouts;

SECTION III: Proposed Resolution for a Comprehensive Water and Land Use Plan

THEREFORE, local and state governments must commit themselves to establishing a comprehensive land-use policy promulgated for public standing and public acceptance in wide-reaching referendums;

THEREFORE, priority rights of acequias, as reflected in the County Commission Phase 1 and 2 40-Year Water Plans, must be confirmed by city and county governments and incorporated into water and land-use strategies with the express affirmation of all the acequias and ditches in the county;

THEREFORE, regulatory controls and amendments to land-use code must ensure that historic rights to water resources be defended by public governance institutions. This can be achieved through legislative ordinance that would assure vital water resources, ecological and cultural values/practices are protected under the Public Welfare Doctrine;

THEREFORE, the county government must incorporate a community rights ordinance such as the City of Las Vegas ordinance, which states that the city has a right to ban businesses and entities that it deems a threat to clean air, water and land. This ordinance would address natural, cultural and environment rights;

THEREFORE, all decisions involving water and land use must undergo a thorough assessment of resources, followed by rigorous social, economic, environmental feasibility studies, assessment and impact statements by city, county, acequia commissioners and independent ditch and community groups;

THEREFORE, municipalities should fund, develop and maintain sustainable de-centralized alternative energy strategies, such as solar, wind, biomass, etc.


This group of Norteños believes that, as historical stewards of the land for over 500 years, we have an obligation to have more local jurisdiction over our environment, which has been damaged by a combination of corporate greed and political inaction.

  • Michael Coca, parciante, of the Río de Las Gallinas Acequia Association and Acequia de los Cuarteles, Cundiyo, co-founded the New Mexico Acequia Association. He is a former planner for the New Mexico Department of Economic Development and a board member of Amigos Bravos and Casa de Cultura;
  • Professor Eric Romero is an assistant professor of Native American/Hispano Studies, New Mexico Highlands University, and a New Mexico Acequia Commission member;
  • Hilario E. Romero is a retired professor of history, Spanish and education;
  • William Gonzales, parciante, New Mexico Acequia Commission Member, is with the Río de Las Gallinas Acequia Association;
  • Kristin Yount is a graduate candidate in Water Policy at NMHU;
  • Arnold Valdez is a parciante (acequia water-rights holder);
  • Mitch Peters is a civil engineer working in hydrology
  • Ingrid Bond is president of the Bioponic World Foundation

For more information, contact Michael Coca: 505.603.5778,

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