Federal government may fight alongside Texas in water dispute, U.S. Supreme Court rules

The ruling is an apparent victory for Texas in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than five years. The states are bickering over the distribution of water from the Rio Grande. Those allocations are laid out in the 1938 Rio Grande Compact.

The United States may join Texas in a legal fight against New Mexico over the coveted waters of the Rio Grande, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday morning.

The unanimous ruling is an apparent victory for Texas in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than five years. The two states are bickering over the distribution of water from the Rio Grande. Those allocations are laid out in the 1938 Rio Grande Compact.

Texas alleged back in 2013 that New Mexico had broken the agreement by taking more water than it’s entitled to. New Mexico responded that the compact never explicitly stated how much water was supposed to end up in Texas, and argued that Texas’ case should be dismissed.

A year later, the federal government joined Texas’ argument, filing similar claims against New Mexico and arguing that it has a stake in the case. The question the high court resolved this week was whether the U.S. could intervene in this type of inter-state disagreement.

The court ruled that it could in this case given its “distinctively federal interests.” Partly, that’s because a breach of the contract could jeopardize the country’s relationship with Mexico, which is also due certain water allocations from the Rio Grande water supply.

Monday’s opinion is not a final win for Texas in this case; the justices sent it back to the federally appointed “special master” for further proceedings. But granting Texas’ argument seems to lend the state strength in its fight against New Mexico.

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