Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

,

New Mexico and the Southwest are in the middle of what’s called a megadrought. Until last Friday, most of the Middle Rio Grande hadn’t seen rain in 76 days. The irrigation season for farmers has been cut short to conserve water for each of the past two years. So it would seem there couldn’t be a worse time for water bottling company Niagara in the Village of Los Lunas to dedicate over 200 million gallons per year of central New Mexico’s limited water supply to fill bottles destined for Costcos and Walmarts around the country.

This is Niagara’s second attempt at getting the village council to approve the exorbitant amount of water usage they have been pressing for.

What’s Our Water Worth?

The California-based water bottling company provides private-label bottled water. In 2021, the company asked for an increase of water diverted from the village’s system from 285 acre-feet per year up to 650 acre-feet per year, which is approximately 211,900,000 gallons of water per year.

2017 village water conservation plan reports that per-capita water use was 127 gallons per day (or 46,355 gallons/year) on the system. While the village is operating well under the maximum capacity of its state permit, the water requested to supply the expansion could instead supply 2,545 people with water for a year. 

Last year, residents and farmers surrounding the Village of Los Lunas started organizing after hearing that Niagara Bottling applied for an expansion of water rights. After media backlash and thousands of signatures protesting the expansion, Niagara pulled their permit the day before the council was scheduled to meet.

Now, Niagara is back and asking for even more water. A new proposal that is expected to go before the village council is asking for an additional 415 acre-feet of water per year to be added to their existing agreement up to 700 total acre feet of water. That’s approximately an additional 135 million gallons of water per year.

In order for the village to supply Niagara Bottling with the amount of water as stated in the their current operating agreement, Niagara Bottling transferred water rights it leased from PNM into the village’s wells.

The water bottling company has faced backlash in other communities. According to the Gainsville Sun, in early 2021, the Columbia County Commissioners in Florida denied a similar proposal to withdraw more than 2 million gallons of water per year from an aquifer because county officials said they would not be able to meet the terms of the proposal without the approval of nearby Lake City. City officials said they weren’t interested in the permit proposal.

The Paper. reached out to Niagara Bottling and the village council but did not receive comment as of press time.

Want to voice your opinion? The Village Council meeting is this Thursday, June 23rd at the Village Administration offices (660 Main St SW, Los Lunas). To speak during Public Comment, show up at 5:30. To fill the Council chambers, show up by 6pm.