reputed to be the best in the West, in order to quench its future thirst by importing hundreds of thousands of gallons of New Mexico water. As the battle has heated up, there has been considerable tub-thumping about states’ rights, along with angry words about Texans stealing our water. But all the parties to the fracas are overlooking an obvious solution: Why doesn’t New Mexico annex El Paso? On the surface, this would be no less outrageousthan the El Paso water suit, but given El Paso’s historical, cultural, social and economic ties to New Mexico, it would be a fitting move and would settle everybody’s problems equitably. It’s been observed before that El Paso is more a part of New Mexico than it is of Texas. A friend of El Paso says, “I will admit to being an El Pasoan. I will not admit to being a Texan.” El Paso, situated on the Mexican border 800 to 1,000 miles from the Texas capital and financial centers, is like the last outpost of the Roman Empire all’ but forgotten except at tax time. El Paso’s ties have always been to the north. It was in a ford near the site of present-day El Paso that Juan de \(Mate claimed for Spain “New Mexico and .. . its kingdoms and provinces” in 1598 before he headed north to conquer the Pueblo Indians and establish the first Spanish outpost in what is now the United States. Three hundred years ago, Governor Otermin and his settlers fell back to the presidio at El Paso after he lost the Province of New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt. In 1692, General Don Diego de Vargas rested in El Paso on his way to retake New Mexico for Spain. El Paso also served as a stage and pony express stop between Sante Fe and San Antonio, and eventually evolved into a thriving trade center. El Paso continues to be a cotton, cattle, and copper marketing center for southern New Mexico and today provides 85 percent of the services for people in the Mesilla Valley. The largest American city on the Mexican border, El Paso is and will be the gateway for expanded trade with Mexico, a prospect that southern New Mexico businessmen have looked forward to for years. And, because of its proximity to White Sands Missile Range, El Paso is home for hundreds of White Sands workers who must pay a New Mexico income tax but are not allowed to vote in New Mexico. Those are just a few of the ties that bind, and also some of the reasons why El Paso officials feel they are entitled to some New Mexico water besides the fact that it’s there. It was even suggested, on both sides, that El Paso should have attempted to negotiate for water rather than mount a legal offensive, since the city certainly has friends on this side of the border. But New Mexico law specifically forbids exporting water across state lines, and there the matter stands. Ironically, even if both sides had been able to reach an agreement in round table discussions, State Engineer Steve Reynolds would have said no dice because of the dangerous precedent it would have set. Not only are the painstakingly constructed and zealously guarded New Mexico water laws at stake; resolution of the problem could, at worst, undermine the whole of western water law. It is here that New Mexicans and Tex ans differ. New Mexico water laws and policy, long a model for the rest of the nation, are grounded on the Pueblo and Spanish traditions of community dams and ditches and on the practice of prior appropriation. Water has been parceled out judiciously for hundreds of years. Our water laws, themselves, have been little altered since they were first codified in 1907. Texas water laws, such as they are, allow people to drill as many wells as they want on their property, and it is for this reason that the Texas portion of the Ogallala Aquifer is drying up more rapidly than other portions of the 225,000-square-mile underground reservoir. It is also the reason why El Paso has limited alternatives for gaining water inside Texas state lines. The nearest available water in Texas is 150 miles away and dwindling. The city could condemn the water rights of its area farmers or pay a high price for desalinization of its remaining water. El Paso residents are already conserving water and paying water bills on an inverse schedule that levies higher rates on larger users. El Paso is currently building a $33 million plant to recycle sewage effluent to provide 10 million gallons of water a year when completed in 1985. Further use of Rio Grande water is limited by existing compacts. El Paso officials have stated repeatedly that they don’t believe their suit in federal court will hurt New Mexico and that there’s plenty of water to go around. El Paso would use only 30 percent of the 55 million acre-feet of water in the 100-mile-long Mesilla Bolson and other underground sources in 100 years’ time. New Mexico water experts argue THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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