Pecos River access: An inside look at the battle between landowners and the AG
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is a battle bubbling over on the banks of the beautiful Pecos River.
This fall, investigators found a homemade PVC pipe fence with barbed wire interwoven throughout.
“People think they have a right to block off access to public waterways, and to the river streams that belong to everyone in our state,” New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said.
Torrez is taking up the fight to take down the barricades.
“Because it prohibits people from being able to enjoy the river, to fish, to engage in outdoor activities,” Torrez said.
Erik Briones is the lone landowner named in the lawsuit filed by Torrez to get him – and 10 of his neighbors – to take down their over-the-river barricades.
“We have a right to enjoy it the way we thought we could when we purchased it or inherited it,” Briones said. “And that right is being taken away from us.”
Briones put up his blockade for a couple of reasons. The first, he says, is for conservation.
“Unfortunately, the Pecos River, of when I was eight, is no longer the same river,” Briones said. “It is absolutely decimated by overfishing, crowding, it’s polluted, it’s trashed. There was human feces on the side of the river and toilet paper. There’s broken bottles everywhere, there’s cans in the river, there’s trash everywhere.”
The second reason explains the many fences and ominous signs threatening trespassers with death.
“They threatened to shoot them – it became a screaming match, everybody was crying,” Briones said.
He said there are many occasions when anglers wade into private property.
“One trespasser threatened to come back when we were gone and burn our cabin down,” Briones said. “One trespasser that I got the Game and Fish to remove with me, told me, ‘I’m from Texas, you don’t know who my daddy is, he’s going to come after you.'”
The lawsuit filed in San Miguel District Court cites a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling last year, saying “The right of the public and the right of the landowner are not absolute.”
“The rivers and streams of New Mexico belong to everyone in the state,” Torrez argues.
But Briones thinks there’s enough public water available to the public besides the portion of the river behind his property. Briones is hoping for a compromise to better enforce the existing laws, and protect the river.
Yet Torrez says private landowners cannot claim public water for themselves.