New Mexico Water Records
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The average rainfall in New Mexico varies considerably depending on the altitude and other geographic factors. Most of the state receives 8 inches or less with the mountain regions receiving more. Because of the overall scarcity of water, it is considered the state's most vital resource. All water in the state, both surface and ground water, belong to the public and are subject to the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation. The Doctrine of Prior Appropriation is a carry-over from the Spanish Civil Law through Mexico. The Doctrine of Prior Appropriation states that the first user (appropriator) in time has the right to take and use water; and that right continues as against subsequent users as long as the appropriator puts the water to beneficial use.
The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer maintains the Water Rights Lookup. The listing is not yet complete by may be useful in tracking individual rights.
See the following links:
- History: The Politics of Water
- Harris, Linda G., Blair, Leslie and Klett, Catherine T., New Mexico Water Rights, WRRI Miscellaneous Report No. 15.
Importance of Water Records
Particularly in the western part of the United States, water rights were transferable in the same way any other property rights were transferred; by deed, by lease or testamentary distribution. Since water records were maintained separately from other land title records, they may provide information not contained in the land and property records. You may not be aware at all that your ancestors had or owned water rights until you begin looking for documents with reference to those rights.
In most of the western part of the United States, water rights were often the subject of bitter controversy and extensive litigation. Some of the water rights litigation has continued for decades and the reports of the cases have created their own archives. For an idea of the length of time involved and the complexity of these extensive litigations, see Feller, Joseph M., The Adjudication that ate Arizona Water Law, Volume 49 Number 2 of the Arizona Law Review.
There are several other huge law cases involving hundreds of litigants and likely millions of pages of transcripts, pleadings and exhibits that contain a huge amount of information about the history of the State of Arizona and all of the adjoining states and those states along the Colorado River waterway.
Finding Water Records
- DuMars, Charles T., New Mexico Water Law: An Overview and Discussion of Current Issues, University of New Mexico Law School.