By Walker Boyd
What are the politics of water? It is an element that fundamentally defines New Mexican notions of ‘the common good’. How does the law, political debate, the economy, and the historical elements of New Mexico’s diverse population influence the debate and its outcomes? This is the first part of an ongoing investigation into politics of water in New Mexico.
I lived on a farm for 6 months in Jaipur, a city in Rajasthan, just off India’s famous Thar desert. The family that owned the farm had built a clothing mill on their property in the 1960’s. Their mill used water drawn from wells beneath the farm to wash dye off the clothing during the manufacturing process. When I arrived, Only two of the farm’s nine wells were drawing water, and with the summer yet to come, the choice was clear: either the mill stops running, or the plants are no longer watered.
Across the road, a government official had an estate. If you walked to the northern edge of the farm, you could peer into his yard. There was a fountain, and some of the peacocks from the farm had already made their way on to the man’s estate. Sprinklers watered an expansive lawn and polo ground.
In 1919, the San Mateo Land Company purchased most of the old Alameda land grant for 19 cents an acre after a court ordered its sale to pay for taxes the community owed the state. In 1948, SMLC sold the 55,000 acres (fully half the size of modern-day Albuquerque) to the land-speculation company Brownfield & Koontz. The same acreage was sold again in 1959 for $10 million to AMREP, otherwise known as Rio Rancho Estates. AMREP sold half- and one-acre tracts of land to retirees and small-time investors, ultimately collecting about $200 million dollars from the sale of nearly 77,000 lots while retaining ownership of 25% of the land for future development.