It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes the little guy wins. Residents and farmers surrounding the Village of Los Lunas started organizing after hearing that Niagara Bottling applied for an expansion of water rights. The California-based water bottling company provides private-label bottled water for retail giants Costco and Walmart. Their permit 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– 118 million or so more than it does today.
Discussion of the permit was scheduled to take place at the village council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 11. Organizers fought for transparency of the meeting, and demanded to have their voice heard. Over 100 readers of The Paper. contacted the village council asking them to reconsider the permit application. After a two-day media blitz, Los Lunas mayor Charles Griego emailed organizers and let them know Niagara had withdrawn their application as of Wednesday morning on Feb. 10.
Leanna Torres is one of those organizers. She grew up in Los Lunas on her family's farm. After receiving her master's degree in water resources management from the University of New Mexico, she applied her knowledge to to help other farmers in Los Lunas. "I was outraged that local leaders were willing to sell our water systems," Torres said. "Water is our herencia in New Mexico. It's our heritage. Our community knows the value of water, and what we need right now is smart water planning, not water selling." Torres said.
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The water bottling company is facing backlash in other communities as well. According to the Gainsville Sun, in early January, 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, Fl. City officials said they weren't interested in the permit proposal.
Although Niagara withdrew their application for now, they may still apply again in the future. "I'm cautious, and I don't think the fight is over," said Torres. "We are in a drought in the west, and we need to keep all the water we can."
Calls to Los Lunas council members, and emails to Niagara Bottling were not returned.
Read more about New Mexico's hottest year on record.
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