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Your Property Just Lost Value

If you own a piece of land and have failed to drill a well for water before now, you might be up a creek without any water (subscription):

A state court this week threw out New Mexicans’ longstanding legal right to drill a domestic water well without having to worry about whether it would leave less water for their neighbors.

The ruling is a victory for activists who say that uncontrolled domestic well drilling poses a long-term threat to New Mexico’s ability to manage its dwindling water supples. But the details of how the ruling will affect developers who rely on domestic wells to supply the homes they build is unclear, experts said Friday.

The automatic right to a domestic well, Judge J.C. Robinson of the Sixth Judicial District Court in Silver City concluded, conflicts with the historic Western principle, written into the New Mexico constitution, that the first users of water in a region have the highest priority water rights.

What is bizarre about this case is that it is the result of a lawsuit brought against the State Engineers office. Why is that bizarre? Well, the defendant in this case, the State Engineer, was probably thrilled to lose the case:

Gov. Bill Richardson and the state’s top water boss will use their administrative powers to limit new domestic wells after the failure of legislation to accomplish the same goal.

“We will do something,” said Bill Hume, Richardson’s senior policy adviser. “The governor’s serious. The question’s not if but how.”

Something is fishy here. The State Engineer has successfully lost a case that now requires them to limit new domestic wells – something they’ve been trying to do for years.