TX v. NM SCOTUS Decision

Posted by Karen Ray on March 15, 2018 5:00 PM

On Monday morning, March 5, 2018, the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. issued an opinion on Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. The Supreme Court rejected Colorado and New Mexico’s arguments in a unanimous opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, and held that the United States will be allowed to intervene in this case, but in a limited way. The holding was one of a limited issue and does not grant the United States broad authority to initiate litigation in all state compact water claims. The Court supported its holding by citing four key reasons:

  1. First, the United States’ claims under the Compact between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas are “inextricably intertwined” with the Rio Grande Project and the contracts with downstream users are at the center of Texas’ complaint.
  2. Second, New Mexico admitted that the United States is a necessary party to the complaint because of its role in delivering the Compact’s water to the parties to this dispute.
  3. Third, the United States has an interest in protecting its ability to meet its treaty obligation to deliver 60,000 acre feet per year to Mexico.
  4. Fourth, the United States has asserted its Compact claims in an existing action brought by Texas, seeking substantially the same relief and without that State’s objection.

The Court cited these four factors as persuasive in allowing the United States to pursue the Compact claims it pleaded in its original action. The Court then sent the case back to the Special Master for further proceedings in line with the opinion.

This decision by the Supreme Court is positive for EBID and its members. First, the Court stated that downstream users are essentially Texas water districts under the Rio Grande Compact, thus reinforcing EBID’s original view of the case. In addition, the Court made it clear that the United States has a legal responsibility to deliver water from the reservoir to downstream contract users, including EBID. That means that New Mexico may not interfere with the Rio Grande Project or its water, and instead, it is the legal responsibility of the United States to look out for the best interests of the farmers within the Project. Both of those findings by the Supreme Court place EBID squarely within the protections the United States and the State of Texas are seeking for the Rio Grande Project under the Compact.

EBID continues to closely monitor this case and will continue to provide regular updates as necessary. The entire opinion can be found at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinion/17

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Phil King)