Representatives from the Pueblo of Isleta have been meeting with local leaders of neighboring communities to gather support against Niagara Bottling’s requested expansion.  

On Dec. 7, representatives from Niagara went before the Los Lunas Village Council requesting an amended agreement that would allow the company to significantly increase its allotted water usage. 

After much discussion, the item was tabled at the council meeting at the request of Councilor Christopher Ortiz so Dr. Lee Wilson, a hydrologist the council consults with, could provide additional information on the current health of the aquifer.  

The amended agreement request has since resurfaced and a vote to deny or accept the request is scheduled for the next Los Lunas Council meeting on Feb. 8.  

Dozens of protesters who oppose Niagara’s expansion attended the Dec. 7 Los Lunas Village Council meeting. Several attendees, including a few local government officials, spoke in opposition of the proposed amended agreement at the meeting. 

At the Jan. 23 town of Peralta council meeting, Isleta Pueblo Second Lt. Gov. Juan Rey Abeita asked the council for its support in opposing “a matter that affects not only us, but our neighboring communities and future generations.” 

The water Niagara uses is pumped from a well belonging to the village; however, the well pulls water from an aquifer stretching from Socorro to Santa Fe that serves all of Valencia County and surrounding areas. 

“The Pueblo of Isleta strongly opposes the proposal to expand Niagara’s current water use. The Pueblo of Isleta values its relationship with our neighboring communities and we feel there are so many communities that will be impacted by this,” Abeita told the council. “Because the village wells are very near the Pueblo of Isleta’s southern boundary, water withdrawn from them has virtually the same impact to the aquifer as if the water was drawn from the wells on the Pueblo of Isleta lands.” 

Abeita added that when big corporations move in, it’s easy for them to exploit resources because they are not stakeholders in the community like residents are.  

“I’m pretty sure most of the families here have been here for generations, and I’m pretty sure most of the families that are here plan on staying around for generations,” said Abeita. “So in essence, this kind of proposal to expand the pumping of our groundwater and to export it to different communities or outside New Mexico, it’s almost like selling our future.” 

Peralta Mayor Bryan Olguin, who spoke in opposition to the amended agreement at the Dec. 7 Los Lunas Village Council meeting, said Peralta will support the Pueblo on this matter 100 percent. 

“It blew me away the amount of water they’re taking,” said Olguin after Abeita’s presentation. “They’re also in violation of their contract and there were no repercussions for them going over the limit they agreed upon.” 

At the Dec. 7 Los Lunas Village Council meeting, it was revealed by Michael Jaramillo, the village’s public works director, that Niagara is consistently exceeding the amount of water use agreed upon in the current contract. 

Since the company began operations in Los Lunas in 2017, Jaramillo said there has only been one or two months the company has not exceeded the allotted amount. He further stated Niagara paid required surcharges for the amounts they went over, but they are not adhering to the current water rights requirement. 

A Niagara representative said at the Dec. 7 meeting it’s not their intent to go over the water use limit as there is a lot of variability in production. He said they’ve always looked at consumption on an annual basis because in the beverage industry, it is very difficult to project on a month-to-month basis. 

In response to an IPRA request, Los Lunas utility billing supervisor Britne Lee said as of May 2019 Niagara has accumulated about 178 acre-feet — or about 58 million gallons — in overages. Total surcharge fees assessed by the village as of May 2019 have amounted to $237,604. 

“Niagara began pumping water before the date referenced; however, May 2019 is the month we began billing the surcharge invoice based on an allocated amount of water diversion and specified overage allocation,” Lee said. 

Bosque Farms leadership has also voiced their support for the Pueblo of Isleta and their opposition to the amended agreement. Bosque Farms Mayor Wayne Ake, Pueblo of Isleta Gov. Max Zuni and Olguin wrote a guest column in the News-Bulletin about the matter, saying Niagara’s expansion is not worth the risk to the shared groundwater many communities rely on.  

“While they’re there and they have the right to do business, we strongly feel they do not have the right to almost triple their consumption of water that is life sustaining for all beings along the Rio Grande,” said Valencia Water Watchers member Deirdra Velasquez at the Jan. 23 Peralta Town Council meeting.   

The amended agreement with Niagara will be discussed during a public hearing and will be considered by the Los Lunas council at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 8, at village hall, 660 Main St. 

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Felina Martinez News-Bulletin Writer

Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.