New Mexico and Texas have suffered years of hostile legal wranglings about water rights involving the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. Virtually all of the Pecos River water originates in New Mexico and a good splash of the Rio Grande comes from New Mexico watersheds. It’s our (New Mexico’s) water, damn it. Texas thinks it’s theirs.
I was involved in one of these of the legal procedures in the 1980s. I helped put together a public relations/media campaign by New Mexicans to try to stop a rude attempt by El Paso to drill wells Dona Ana County to pump water to our neighbor to the south. The attempt ended up in federal courts and I think it finally died there without any Texas wells being drilled in New Mexico.
While snooping around the Internet on a site of old newspaper stories about this subject, I discovered this incredible gem of a letter to the editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican in 1902. It was written by a resident of Taos, who was railing against a piece of proposed Congressional legislation called the “Stephens Bill”
Based on the letter, I am assuming the legislation was proposed by a group of businessmen from El Paso who were opposing construction of a dam on the Rio Grande near present day Truth or Consequences (at that time called Hot Springs). Instead, they apparently wanted to build one at El Paso. I’ve been searching historical sites for anything about “The “Stephens Bill” or a proposed dam and reservoir at El Paso, but I’ve come up blank so far. I’ll continue to dig into it.
The gist of the legislation, it appears, was to block the construction of the dam because the El Paso business leaders feared it would reduce the amount of water flowing down the Rio Grande to El Paso. Their concern appeared to be once the river’s flow was reduced, the Rio Grande would no longer be navigable for ships connecting El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. I mean really — large ships moving along the waterway pictured below?
What was hypocritical, however, was the assertion in the letter that the El Paso businessmen supported construction of just such a dam on the Rio Grande near their city. They contended that it would NOT reduce the flow of water in the river on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The letter went on to note that attempts to navigate boats down the Rio Grande had been unsuccessful, with one attempt ending in the death of an adventurer and another with the boat running aground on a sandbar somewhere southeast of El Paso.
The letter called the proposal a “boodling scheme, first last and all time,” and noted the “inconsistency and absurdity of the bill.”
So if you were holding out hopes that Putin’s yacht could be seized and sailed up the Rio Grande to El Paso as a tourist attraction, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Your best bet might be to spot a banged-up L.L. Bean canoe that someone had to portage over a few hundreds of miles of sandbars then finally left in desperation on a sticky mud flat near Fabens.
And in the meantime, enjoy Elephant Butte while it still has a little water in it.