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ABQjournal Stories by Tania Soussan   |   NewsLibrary Archive of Tania Soussan (1995-present)

Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Short on Water? Buy It on the Web

By Tania Soussan
Journal Staff Writer
    Need water?
    Hydrologist Bill Turner has the answer: Buy online.
    Turner, New Mexico's natural resources trustee, has become an Internet water-rights broker, listing water for sale everywhere from Socorro to Sweden.
    "There's a very active interest in water," said Turner, who works out of Albuquerque. "... We're just on the tip of the iceberg with regard to water transactions."
    At a time when it's possible to buy a build-it-yourself log-home kit, a jersey signed by Madonna and slot machine secrets on the Internet, why not water?
    And as urban areas continue to grow and plant new homes and businesses across New Mexico and the West, more and more water will be needed for municipal and industrial use.
    Turner is active around the world as a consultant on water issues. As New Mexico's natural resources trustee, an unpaid position, he is a sort of watchdog who makes sure anyone who damages the state's water, land or other resources cleans up the mess or pays a fine.
    Turner's site isn't the only place to buy water rights on the Internet, but he says it is the largest. markets rights just in that state, and The Water Rights Market brokers trade in the Western states.
    "It's beginning to be another media (for water-rights transactions)," said Bobby Creel, associate director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute.
    Water may be easier to find on the World Wide Web, but it's not necessarily easier to buy, warned water economist and New Mexico State University professor Tom McGuckin.
    "It's not like trading on eBay," he said, "because you have this huge, huge regulatory process you have to go through. ... It's sort of like if you buy a car and you have to fill out 300 pages of paperwork."
    Turner lists both water rights for sale and water rights sought on his site. He also acts as a broker in transactions, charging sellers a 10 percent commission. The site includes more than 40 blocks of water rights available around New Mexico and several in other states. In addition, there are listings from people all over New Mexico and Texas, Utah, Colorado and New Jersey who want to buy water rights.
    Someone who needs water in the Rio Grande basin, for example, can check out what's available or can put up his or her own listing. Prices depend on where the water is and the seniority of the water right.
    Water utilities, bottled water companies and bulk water that can be shipped in tankers from nations around the world also are for sale at
    Turner set up his site in 1999, but it has had a higher profile recently. He has a billboard on Interstate 25 near the Albuquerque International Sunport. also is wading into the Pecos River valley situation, where a potential water shortage could force cities, homeowners and others to find alternative sources of water.
    State Engineer Tom Turney fears New Mexico will not meet its delivery obligation to Texas on the Pecos this year. If that happens, Turney could be forced to shut down junior water-rights holders in the valley so that more water flows downriver to Texas.
    Turner has created a water-leasing program on that he says will pay Pecos Valley farmers with senior rights what they deserve for their water while giving others a way to keep their taps flowing.
    If farmers let their irrigation water stay in the Pecos, other users can pump from wells near the river without reducing the flows to Texas.
    Turner said his leasing program should yield $400 to $600 an acre-foot each year the water is leased — eight to 12 times more than the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has been paying.
    "I'm going to create a market down there and get those farmers a decent price for their water," Turner said.
    So far, farmers with senior rights have made about 4,000 acre-feet of water available through the leasing program. Turner charges the farmers a 10 percent commission and the lessees a $150 transaction fee.
    State Engineer Turney said he supports the leasing program because it could help expedite water-rights transfers.
    "Bill Turner is stepping in as part of the marketplace," he said.

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