LOS LUNAS — Representatives from the town of Peralta and the Pueblo of Isleta asked the Los Lunas Village Council to consider neighboring communities when voting on an amended agreement with Niagara Bottling Co., who is asking to increase its water use.

“I think it would be neighborly of the council and mayor to consult with the adjoining towns and see how we feel about these projects that are affecting everybody,” said Peralta Councilor Leon Otero during last Thursday’s meeting. “The aquifer does not belong to Los Lunas.”

Although a vote on the amended agreement sat at the top of the agenda during the meeting, the council voted to table the decision until they could hear input from the village’s water consultants, at the recommendation of the village attorney.

“One of the requirements of this water agreement would be the water budget that Niagara has provided to us for their proposed expansion,” village counsel Larry Guggino told the council when presenting the agenda item. “The budget has been reviewed by our engineers, but our water rights experts have not finished their review of the budget, so we are missing that component.”

Expecting a vote, a group of protesters holding “No to Niagara” signs not only filled the council chambers, but also an overflow seating area located in the lobby just outside the chambers.

Although the item was tabled with no section on the agenda set aside for public input on the topic, the council allowed more than 30 minutes for Valencia County residents to speak out against the agreement with Niagara.

“MRGCD does have concerns of a transfer of a water right without having an offset. Maybe we can request that Niagara Bottling Company transfer additional water rights that can be used as an in-stream flow to protect our aquifer,” said Stephanie Russo Baca, chairwoman of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, who also submitted written comments to the council prior to the meeting.

The water rights, which Niagara plans to again lease from PNM, have been approved by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. According to Los Lunas director of public works, Michael Jaramillo, what the village has control over is determining whether it has the capability to pump the large amount of water through village infrastructure, which they do.

He added the amended agreement is to ensure the village will not be required to continue to pump water in case Niagara’s leased water rights were to fall through.

Niagara is requesting its water intake be more than doubled from 285 acre feet per year to 700 acre feet per year, or more than 228 million gallons of water.

Although the water would be accessed through a well belonging to the village of Los Lunas, the greater aquifer the company will be pulling from stretches from Socorro to Santa Fe and also encompasses the entire city of Albuquerque.

“This is more than a financial issue. This goes — as everyone has been saying — hundreds of years into the future and more than just right now,” said Victoria Armijo Rodriguez, who recently received her master naturalist certification from the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. “This affects more than just Valencia County.”

In 2021, Niagara brought forward a similar request to the council when the company asked for its water use to be increased to 650 acre feet per year. The company leased the water rights both times from PNM.

Following community backlash, Niagara rescinded the request in 2021 to pump more water.

The amended agreement is scheduled for consideration at the next regular Los Lunas Village Council meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 14.

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.