SCOTUS Sides With New Mexico in Interstate Dispute Over Pecos River

With a vote of 7-1, the justices agreed that New Mexico must receive delivery charge for the evaporated water though water was not delivered to Texas

Facts of this Case

Even the 1949 interstate Pecos River Compact provides for equitable apportionment of using the Pecos River’s water from New Mexico and Texas. At an 1988 amended decree in the same instance, the Supreme Court appointed a River Pro to annually calculate New Mexico’s responsibilities to Texas under the Compact. The Court also embraced the River Master’s Manual, which elaborates how best to create the required calculations to ascertain if New Mexico is complying with its obligations under the Compact. As relevant, §C.5 of this Manual provides that if water is stored”in the request of Texas” in a facility in New Mexico, then New Mexico’s delivery obligation”will be decreased by the quantity of reservoir losses due to the storage”

In 2014, a tropical storm brought heavy rainfall in the Pecos River Basin. To reduce flood, Texas’s Pecos River Commissioner requested that some of the River’s water be saved in New Mexico. A few months after, the water has been released; but a significant quantity of water evaporated while the water has been held in New Mexico.

For decades afterwards, the States sought to reach an agreement on the way the evaporated water should be accounted for under the Compact. To permit those discussions to continue, the River Master outlined a process in 2015 which predicted for the future settlement of the issue. Neither State objected. When discussions eventually broke down, however, New Mexico filed a motion with the River Representative which sought delivery charge for the evaporated water. The River Master agreed, rejecting Texas’s argument that the motion was untimely and finishing the evaporated water was water stored”in the request of Texas” under §C.5 of the River Master’s Manual.

Supreme Court’s Conclusion

The Supreme Court rejected Texas’ motion, agreeing with all the River Master’s decision. “We concur with the River Master’s conclusion, and we deny Texas’s motion for review,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote on behalf of most.

The Court first rejected Texas’ argument that New Mexico’s motion for credit for the evaporated water was untimely. Since Justice Kavanaugh highlighted, both parties agreed to postpone the River Master’s settlement of this evaporated-water matter. Accordingly, neither party could object to the discussion process outlined from the River Master for resolving the dispute.

The Court further found that New Mexico is entitled to delivery charge for the evaporated water. In support, the Court point to Section C.5 of the River Master’s Manual. As Justice Kavanaugh clarified:

The River Master’s Manual, that was approved by this Court in 1988, implements the Compact and speaks straight to the question: After water is saved in New Mexico”in the request of Texas,” then New Mexico’s delivery obligation”will be decreased by the quantity of reservoir losses caused by its storage” The water has been stored in New Mexico at the request of Texas, so New Mexico’s delivery responsibility must be decreased by the amount of water that disappeared through its storage.

In the end, the Court found that Texas’s counterarguments–which the stored water wasn’t actually part of the”Texas allocation” known in §C.5, which New Mexico did not”store” the water for §C.5 functions, which Texas should not be charged for any evaporation occurring from March 15 until the water had been released in August 2015–were unpersuasive.
The article SCOTUS Sides With New Mexico in Interstate Dispute Over Pecos River appeared on Constitutional Law Reporter.