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A protester holds an anti-Niagara sign at a protest that was held on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park. Community members gathered at the park to protest Niagara’s proposed amended water/wastewater agreement that would have upped the water at the Los Lunas plant from 285-acre feet to 650.

LOS LUNAS — Niagara Bottling withdrew its request with the village of Los Lunas to amend its water/wastewater agreement last week — much to the delight of those who opposed it.

Niagara Bottling wanted to increase the amount of water it used so it could double production at the plant. While the current agreement states the company can use up to 285-acre feet of water per year, the proposed agreement asked the village to increase that to 650-acre feet — more than 200 million gallons of water per year.

Niagara Bottling didn’t respond to request for comment from the News-Bulletin.

Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego said the water rights Niagara has in place are leased. The lease of water is done through PNM, according to the current agreement.

“This is something that’s approved by the state engineer,” Griego said. “The state engineer allows it, and I think the state engineer is the one who has jurisdiction over water rights and transfers of water rights and diversion of water rights.

“What we do is we provide the water to them and they discharge into our sewer system, which we treat also. They are billed like a regular customer.”

Clayton Ten Eyck, a water engineer with Molzen Corbin, examined the village’s water systems prior to this agreement being brought up in late January. Griego said he looked at how the village’s water systems would be strained by a possible increase in production from Niagara.

The mayor pointed to Well 3 and Well 7 — the former which is being redeveloped and the latter which is being built currently — as reasons for concern for diverting water.

“So basically it creates a strain on our village system in the event of a high-water use period — basically a hot summer,” Griego said.

Under the current and proposed agreement, Niagara was to “transfer suitable water rights into the village’s wells by lease instead of by purchase to offset their water consumption.” Niagara had planned to lease those additional water rights through PNM again.

Griego said he feels relieved the proposed agreement fell through, adding the village doesn’t control the water rights portion of it. He believes the village was getting unnecessary backlash, saying community members don’t fully understand the process.

“I felt relieved to put it that way,” Griego said. “There are parts and systems where we do have control over the issue, basically with the delivery and treatment of water.

“We do not control the water rights portion of it, that was done by the state engineer. But I think that was the main issue that we were getting beat up over and also the depletion of the aquifer, which I totally understand, but we do not have jurisdiction over that.”

Protest over water

After Niagara first proposed a new agreement with the village, members in the community that were angered organized a protest at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

They called on the village council and Niagara to not come to a new agreement that would see an increase in water usage at the plant.

More than 16 organizations, including Valencia Water Watchers and Southwest Organizing Project, rallied together to protest what they said was a bad deal, adding there is already is a lack of water in New Mexico

Amber Jeansonne said she was surprised to see how many people showed up to the protest — there were about 50 people — and was proud so many people care about water issues locally.

“I have a lot of concerns about the use of water in our community, and I think there’s a lot of mixed signals as far as farmers being asked not to water,” Jeansonne said, “with people trying to grow their own food and having a lot of issues with water. It makes me very concerned that an outside company can come in and not be checked.”

Niagara Bottling’s Los Lunas plant is headquartered at the former Merillat plant on the west side of Interstate 25, where they lease about 44 percent of the facility. The company has been in operation locally since 2016.

During a previous council meeting, Niagara representatives said about 90 percent of the water it bottles stays here in New Mexico.

Staff Writer

Matthew Narvaiz was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attended the University of New Mexico and worked at the Taos News before coming to the News-Bulletin. He covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.

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