William Gonzales says he and other farmers and ranchers have been working for years to get the city to sit down and talk about sharing water on the Gallinas River.
And, by his account, they weren’t invited to the table until last year.
Months of negotiations have resulted in a water-sharing agreement for this year. If it works out, it may be the basis for a permanent agreement.
And there’s a bonus for city residents: They won’t have to pay the thousands of dollars every year for water rights litigation with 12 area acequias, or community-operated irrigation ditch groups. Such legal battles have continued since 1958.
Earlier this year, the city and the Storrie Project Water Users Association reached an agreement to end their litigation, which started a dozen years ago.
For years, Gonzales said the acequias have had to approach the city to plead for it to stop taking water off the Gallinas during certain times, so they could get water to irrigate their crops.
With the agreement, farmers don’t have to go begging to the city, he said. The rules are already set.
The pact took effect a month and a half ago, but Mayor Tony Marquez and acequia leaders signed off on it officially during a ceremony last week along the Gallinas River near West Las Vegas High School.
The agreement has provisions that would have the city to take water from the river during periods of rainfall, so the city can fill up its reservoirs. During those times, the farmers would have enough water from the precipitation.
So far, the agreement has been working well, Gonzales said.
“The city has been on time. I see (water officials) once or twice a week. It’s a much more positive dynamic than we had before,” he said.
If all works well, the city and acequias may be ending their half-century-old litigation by 2013 or sooner, Gonzales said.
The mayor said he promised during his campaign to bring stakeholders to the water problem to the table. And he noted that one of his goals was to get lawyers out of the way.
“In the past decades, I saw how money was actually wasted in litigation and nothing was gained,” Marquez said in a statement.
The city stated in a press release that it would develop agreements for the next three irrigation seasons and then come up with a final product afterward and present it to state District Court for a settlement of the longstanding litigation.
Councilman Andrew Feldman, who has been active in water issues but wasn’t aware of the signing ceremony, called the agreement historic for Las Vegas.
He said the next step is to improve water infrastructure.