Pueblo Water Crisis in New Mexico


By Jason Pruett:

The Pueblos have suffered the white settlers’ occupation since their first arrival in the Four-Corners region.  Since that time settlers and the United States government have continually taken their land and natural resources.  Nothing has been done to stop this treatment of the Pueblos.  To this day, the New Mexico government and non-natives extract the Pueblos’ precious water supply.  The Pueblos most affected by this are the Nambé, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, and Tesuque.  (Bossert & Armstrong, 2009) The Pueblo are still in litigation against the state government in their battle for clean water.

The Pueblo water crisis not only affects the Indigenous community’s surface-water, but also their ground water which is used as domestic well-water. An additional distinguishing factor is that the case of Aamodt v. New Mexico is considered the longest running court case in the federal court system.  (ICMN, 2013) “It is a fight of social and legal complexity over ownership of virtually all the water in the Rio Grande and its tributaries north of Santa Fe, both in rivers and underground.”  (Peterson 1983) Water contamination affects 5,600 non-indigenous people in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, who are allies in the fight for clean water.

This community’s experience is historically significant because the Aamodt case is the first of its kind to be filed in the state of New Mexico.  (Bossert & Armstrong, 2009) The area is also historically significant.  While ruled by Spain, the Pueblo Indians were given water rights to all waters that crossed or bordered their lands.  (Maynez, 1978) In 1821 Mexico won its independence but left the Spanish laws in place concerning Pueblo land.  (Maynez, 1978) In 1848, the land was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  This treaty also protected the rights of the Pueblo land. (Maynez, 1978) “Under Spanish royal law, which the Indian cite, the Pueblos were forbidden to cede any of their property.  Claims by settlers to have legally acquired water rights must therefore be void…”  (Peterson 1983)

The experiences of the Pueblo communities were very different from others of the time.  The courts ruled that all land that was cultivated between 1848 and 1924 become known as historically irrigated acreage (HIA).  (Bossert & Armstrong, 2009) “Aamodt is the only case in which HIA has been used in quantifying Pueblo water rights.”  (Bossert & Armstrong, 2009)

The Pueblo communities’ experiences have remained consistent over a number of years.  The Aamodt case launched in the 1960s is still being contested today.  (Peterson 1983)   The experiences of the Pueblo communities relate to the constant struggle to co-exist with non-natives.  If the Pueblo Indians win in the court system, then 2.7 percent of the state of New Mexico’s population will control the water.  (Peterson 1983) If the Pueblos lose; however, they will claim that the white man twisted the law and took it. (Peterson 1983)

This issue has been a very hot topic for such a long period of time.  Aamodt v. New Mexico was the first such case to be filed in the state of New Mexico. Not only are the Pueblos affected by this case, but also the entire state of New Mexico, Santa Fe county, and about 5,600 citizens.  This issue has been so significant because it not only focuses on the irrigation water supply of the surface, but it also deals with underground well water.  The water issues of the American West are just beginning.  This is just one case that will be looked upon in retrospect for guidance in the future.


Works Cited

Bossert, Paul, Esq., and Sarah Armstrong. Water Matters!: Nambé, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, and

Tesuque Pueblos’ Settlement. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico School of

Law, 2009. PDF.

“Four New Mexico Pueblos and Secretary Salazar Finalize Historic Aamodt Water Rights Case.”

Indian Country Media Network. N.p., 16 Mar. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.

Maynez, A. Patrick. “Pueblo Indian Water Rights: Who Will Get The Water?”.  Albuquerque:

The University of New Mexico School of Law, 1978. PDF. Vol. 18, No. 3

Peterson, Iver. “Bitter Fight Over Water Near End In New Mexico.” The New York Times. The

New York Times, 14 Dec. 1983. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.

About the author: Brian King

Brian D. King lives in Oklahoma and is a writer and blogger who studies and teaches English. He earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University, and he is currently working on his graduate degree in English in Oklahoma.

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