- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A ranching family is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a fight over a $600 million proposal that calls for piping billions of gallons of water from rural western New Mexico to more populated areas of the drought-stricken state.

Attorneys for Ray and Carol Pittman filed a motion Monday asking the court to order the state’s top water official to reject the latest application by Augustin Plains Ranch to pump and pipe water to supplement dwindling supplies in the Rio Grande Valley.

The commercial venture’s previous application was rejected two years ago. It was one of the most contested filings in the history of the state engineer’s office, and critics also have raised concerns about the latest application.

The court filing argues the application seeks to appropriate about 17.6 billion gallons of water a year but fails to indicate how or where the water will be used.

“By keeping the intended use vague, the ranch hopes to speculate in future water markets and ultimately sell to whoever the highest bidders may be in seven counties,” said Bruce Frederick, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which is representing the Pittmans.

Frederick said that under state law, the state engineer has a duty to dismiss applications that fail to state a purpose for the water or an end user.

The state engineer’s office is reviewing the latest application but has yet to make any decision.

Officials with Augustin Plains Ranch said the court filing is an attempt by opponents and special interests to block what would be a public process if the state engineer grants a hearing on the application.

“Their desire to use the court to circumvent the state engineer before that office has had a chance to do its job puts the cart before the horse and wastes time and money,” said Whitney Waite, a spokeswoman for the ranch.

She said the latest application is more specific than the last one and includes information about the feasibility of the project, technical details and demand for drinking water.

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