In late May, Chevron Mining Inc. put up for sale or lease a whopping 1,400 acre-feet per year of water and 4,000 acres of land in Taos County.
The water rights are enough to have a drought-gripped state salivating, yet they do come with restrictions imposed by the corporation intended to keep the water in Questa and help the beleaguered region with economic development, according to a statement issued by Chevron.
Chevron owned the large cache of land and water rights as part of the company's molybdenum mining operations near Questa. In the mine's long history, it had low periods with occasional layoffs.
The mine, formerly owned by Molycorp, folded for good in 2014 and let go of about 300 workers. A deep economic crisis and efforts to envision a new future for the northern region of Taos County has unfolded over the past four years.
In selling the water rights and land, the company noted in its statement, "the restrictions on these assets will help foster the economic development of a post-mining entrepreneurial economy in the village of Questa area. None of the water rights will be permitted to leave the village of Questa or northern Taos County region."
The water rights, which have all been adjudicated, cannot be transferred out of the region for 75 years, a provision that will be written into the deeds as they are sold.
"It took us several years to figure out how this would work," said Tommy Lyles, the spokesperson for the Questa mine, in a May interview. "All we have to is to find the buyers."
Water rights are being sold for $3,000 per acre-foot and any transfers are subject to approval by the Office of the State Engineer. The land will be sold in predetermined blocks. The four smallest parcels of 40 acres each could fetch between $26,000 and $44,150. The largest parcel is the Carter Tract, at slightly more than 1,372 acres, and has a price tag of $686,300.
Questa Land and Water, a new nonprofit organization made of local community leaders and officials (including two village councilors, Louise Gallegos and Charlie I. Gonzales) will review applications and make recommendations to a group of Questa-area Chevron employees for all sales and leases. The organization has developed a rubric to analyze each application based on price, amount of land and/or water rights sought and the purpose for which those rights are sought.
Lyles did not tell The Taos News how many more land and water properties Chevron owns in Questa and northern Taos County. Even more acres and water rights could be sold through this process, he said, though other properties could be sold without the geographic and 75-year restrictions.
Chevron Mining has retained the services of Paul Romero of Bella Vista Real Estate in Taos to broker the transactions.
In an effort to even the playing field and garner ideas from the local community, anyone can submit an application to purchase or lease the land and water rights during a 60-day open enrollment period, after which the new organization will make its recommendations to Chevron, according to Romero. Information on the sales are available at Romero's website, bellavistataos.com, or by phone at (575) 770-7581.