New Mexico man climbs rig to protest deep aquifer drilling

New Mexico

A man who is sitting dangerously high up in the air on top of a drilling rig in protest of a water project won’t be up there for long. Water rights activist Buck Johnston climbed at least 40 feet up the rig Thursday.

Johnston calls himself a “guardian of earth’s natural resources,” and there are dozens of people camping in the cold to support his mission at the water well drill site off US-64, east of the Rio Grande Gorge.

“Showed up at about 7 a.m. yesterday just as the sun was rising,” Azalea Gusterson said.

A water rights group and other Taos County locals have formed a peaceful protest to inform people about the Abeyta Water Agreement, which they say will hurt their water supply.

“This is how we live our lives, defending our Mother Earth, what we live on, and she takes care of us so we have to take care of her, too,” said protester Maria Jim, who is also Johnston’s girlfriend.

In a written statement to KRQE, State Police said crisis negotiators are speaking with a man who climbed to the top of the drilling rig, at least 40 feet up, and who is refusing to come down.

“We need these aquifers to stay whole so these water systems are still healthy in 500 years,” Johnston said over the phone on Friday.

He and the group are calling for an environmental impact study of drilling at the site to tap into an aquifer as a water supply well for the El Prado Water and Sanitation District.

“We want to be informed and part of the conversation about how our community grows and how our water is used in the future, and the other part of it is the actual physical dangers of aquifer drilling and how aquifers can be damaged or contaminated when aquifer waters are mixed,” Gusterson added.

Congress approved the Abeyta Water Agreement in 2008.

The El Prado Water and Sanitation District says the Bureau of Reclamation already did an environmental assessment of the well site and found nothing wrong, and that they’re following all state regulations and the Clean Water Act. 

According to the Taos News, Johnston plans to come down sometime Sunday morning. They Taos News also reports at least one man was arrested by police for trespassing the area while trying to take the protester a phone charger.

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