SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The State of New Mexico is taking property owners to court after those landowners allegedly blocked access to public water, a violation of the state’s constitution.

For some time, there’s been debate over just how much fencing private landowners can put up around public waters that flow over their private land. The state’s constitution says the state’s surface water belongs to the public, and the New Mexico Supreme Court decided that landowners have to allow the public to access that water, even when it flows over private land.

That’s all well and good, but officials say there are some landowners that refuse to comply. Now, Attorney General Raul Torrez is taking them to court.

In a lawsuit against 11 people – only one of which is named – the state is asking a district court to require those landowners to remove signs, and fences, and to stop blocking access to public water. In the complaint filed in court, the state alleges one of the landowners threatened to shoot a recreational river guide using the Pecos River that abuts the landowner’s property. The state says that landowner also put up fences laced with barbwire, which blocked access to the Pecos.

“We filed this lawsuit to ensure every New Mexican’s right to access our state’s rivers and streams,” Torrez said in a press release. “The New Mexico Supreme Court correctly interpreted our state constitution and ruled that wealthy landowners cannot erect barriers to prevent anglers and others from walking, wading or floating on the riverbed. While we respect the private property rights of landowners along these waterways, we expect them to follow the law and take down illegal barriers that restrict access to natural resources that belong to all of our citizens.”

The lawsuit was filed on October 31, 2023. As of publication, the defendants have not yet had a chance to file a rebuttal in court.