Monday, May 29, 2023

Water Wars: Village Residents Fight To Stop Company From Bottling Precious Local Water

What's Our Water Worth?


The year 2020 delivered likely one of the worst droughts on record for the middle part of our state. And yet, water bottling company Niagara is asking 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.

The request was originally slated as an action item during the last Los Lunas Village Council meeting but was postponed for further debate at the February 11th council meeting.

The California-based company which provides private-label bottled water for retail giants Costco and Walmart is asking for an increase of water diverted from the village's system from 285 acre-feet per year up to 650 acre-feet per year. One acre-foot of water is a little less than 326,000 gallons. If approved, the total amount of water that Niagara would use is approximately 211,900,000 gallons of water per year-- 118 million or so more than it does today.

A 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 required to supply the Niagara expansion could supply 2,545 people for a year. The same plan noted that the village would likely have to drill an additional well to keep up with future needs following the addition of phase 1 of the Facebook data center project added in 2019 -- and that is before factoring in climate change.

"In recent years, New Mexico has experienced multi-year droughts that threaten to negatively affect the water supply of the Village and neighboring communities as dry weather conditions continue," Molzen-Corben, the village's water consultant, reported in 2017. "Predictions for long-term weather patterns resulting from climate change also point
toward a reduced water supply throughout the region."

Los Lunas residents Amber Jeansonne and Dierdre Velasquez heard about Niagara's request and started calling the village council members and the mayor. "We were told that the meeting is closed to the public, and they won't accept public comments," said Jeansonne. "That doesn't seem fair, and this seems like it's a public issue to protect our water. It's like they're bottling our own water and trying to sell it back to us."

It's easy to understand why residents are upset. In 2020 the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which manages irrigation water for farmers, cut short the 2020 irrigation season due to lack of water and Rio Grande Compact obligations. In a report the agency stated, "The 2020 season produced some of the worst water supply conditions on record." The Office of the State Engineer is recommending “that farmers along the Rio Chama and in the Middle Valley that don’t absolutely need to farm this year do not farm,” according to a staff report that Interstate Stream Commission Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen presented to the Legislature earlier this week.

Niagara Bottling plans to get those water rights through PNM, as it was previously done under the current water/wastewater agreement approved by Los Lunas officials in 2017.

This isn't the first time that Niagara has faced public scrutiny over expansion of water rights. In 2009 then-mayor Richard Smith of Groveland, Fla., wrote an op-ed in the Florida Times Union, stating, "I am calling on other Floridians to join our city of 7,000 residents to stand up against Niagara Bottling Co., which seeks to deplete our aquifer by nearly 500,000 gallons of water a day. This would have a crippling effect on our current and future water supply." The water company sued the city of Groveland after it challenged its permit application. The city finally ended its water war with Niagara after a $1.35 million dollar settlement was reached.

Advocacy group Southwest Organizing Project has also gotten involved in the water fight. They've organized a car rally on Feb. 9 at 2:30pm at the Katherine Gallegos Elementary School in Los Lunas, demanding the village council allow public comment at Wednesday's meeting.

The Paper. reached out to Niagara Bottling but did not receive comment.

Do you care about this issue? Contact the public officials charged with deciding it.

Ground rules:

  • Be polite. Abusive or threatening language will not be tolerated.
  • Be short. Make your point simply (tell them you read about it in The Paper)
  • Say "thank you" because your Mom taught you to.


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