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House passes bill to protect land grant communities across Southwest

It’s an issue Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M. 3) has been working on for years.  This past week, he passed a bill through the U.S. House called the Land Grant-Mercedes Traditional Use Recognition and Consultation Act.

“This would be the first time that traditional communities would be codified into law based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” said Rep. Lujan in an interview with KOB 4.  “It’s an important recognition from the federal government to these traditional communities that will bridge the difference with what I would call the lack of respect and recognition that comes from federal government agencies, to our land grants.”

If passed, the bill would ensure that land grant managers or boards are making land-use decisions with the Department of Interior and the U.S Department of Agriculture, something Rep. Lujan said isn’t happening.  Rep. Lujan explained land grant managers have had a number of issues through the years that conflict with the federal land uses. 

“One specifically where they the people in the community were not able to access a cemetery, whose boundaries were drawn incorrectly,” Rep. Lujan said.  “So this cemetery, which predated the federal government, was not accessible through the common lands.  We were able to get the fences moved, the boundaries recognized and redrawn. This bill would make that easier, so that land grants don’t have to face that bureaucracy.”

The bill addresses acequias, the community ditches that bring water to agricultural fields across Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. The act ensures local acequias governments are at the seat of the table when the federal government manages surface water rights.

“Acequias that have encountered the bureaucracy and the outright refusal of federal government agencies to go in and maintain their acequias— this would address that,” Rep. Lujan said.

The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate.

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