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By Tom Scott
Published On: May 12 2014 11:59:52 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 21 2014 08:33:57 PM CDT
Only on ABC-7 Water rights battle in Otero County

Ranchers in Otero County, New Mexico, say new fences imposes on water rights for cattle in the area.

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. -

Otero County Commissioners passed a resolution Monday morning asking the Otero County sheriff to take immediate steps to remove or open gates that are "unlawfully" denying citizens access to their private property rights. 

About 20 ranchers attended the special meeting. 

Sheriff Benny House says he believes the ranchers or property owners are in good standing in regards to their property rights. 

He believes the U.S. Forest Service has encroached upon property rights and are taking rights from those individuals. 

House wants to resolve the issue civilly, which make take a civil lawsuit or criminal charges.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Albuquerque has asked the sheriff to stand down until they can meet on Friday. 

If no resolution comes from that meeting, the sheriff says he needs to be prepared to take another form of action.  He says that action may not be popular but he needs to follow the rule of law. 

Commissioner Ronnie Rardin said the commission and sheriff's office is obligated to uphold the constitution.  He says the he doesn't like taking action against people who are his friends but the action being taken is against the system which has encroached on the citizens of Otero County.   He fully supports the actions the sheriff will take. 

Denise Lang, a county resident, believes the Forest Service should be trusted to sustain the forest and its habitat and the issue is not about water.  She wonders if there is overgrazing of the land. 

Commissioner Tommy Herrell said grazing is not the issue, but rather private property rights ranchers have to the water.

Rancher John Dalton Bell says the commission is doing the right thing by following the law.  The people own the water rights and the forest service does not. 

Travis Moseley, U.S. Forest Service Supervisor, says cooler heads will prevail and it will be worked out.  He believes access to water has been provided even if water rights exist on these sites. 

Moseley does not believe property rights are being violated.  If the sheriff decides to cut locks to gates, Moseley's employees have been instructed to document the situation which will be turned over to their attorneys.

For more on this ongoing issue, read the stories under Related Content to the left of this article.

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