Maria has practiced in the areas of Natural Resources, Environmental and Utility law for over twenty years. Her primary focus is on water resources, water quality, and related regulatory matters including National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") and Endangered Species Act ("ESA") compliance. She represents clients from both the public and private sectors before the Office of the New Mexico State Engineer, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission federal agencies, and in state and federal court. Maria's experience has been centered on resolution of complex disputes regarding water use and allocation. Her experience includes negotiation of multi-party water agreements, permitting of water and energy projects, the purchase and lease of water rights, water utility matters, litigation involving protection and acquisition of water resources, water planning and water quality issues.
Chambers USA has stated, "O'Brien is a gifted attorney in the water law sphere, with prowess in both regulatory and litigious matters. Clients hail her as ‘very personable, very professional, and very good in terms of both writing and oral advocacy. She is outstanding and a delightful person' and is considered ‘the go to' lawyer for water supply litigation." Maria was selected as 2016 "Lawyer of the Year in Water Law – Albuquerque" by Best Lawyers of America® and has been recognized by Benchmark Litigation and Southwest Super Lawyers®.
Maria regularly addresses a complexity of issues relating to water supply and related regulatory matters regarding the permitting and siting of energy and water projects. Maria currently represents the State of Oklahoma with regard to conflicts over water resources as between the State and several Oklahoma Indian Tribes. She represented the City of Albuquerque (now the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility ("ABCWUA") ) in protection of its municipal water supply with regard to ESA claims involving the endangered Rio
Grande Silvery Minnow. She continues to represent the ABCWUA on ESA and water quality matters. She represents the Pueblo de Pojoaque in the context of the Aamodt general stream adjudication, which involves the water rights claims of four Pueblos, various governmental entities and thousands of non-Indian defendants. She participated in the decade-long effort to draft a settlement agreement which received congressional approval and funding and was signed into law by President Obama as the Claims Resolution Act in December 2010. She continues to work with the Pueblo on implementation of the settlement including approval of the Partial Final Decree for the Pueblo rights.
Prior to joining the firm, Maria served as law clerk to the Honorable James A. Parker of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.
Maria serves as Head of the firm's Natural Resources and Environment Department and was long time Chair of the Water Resources Group and former Chair of the Energy & Utilities Group.
Maria is an avid runner and hiker. When not lawyering or running, she spends time with her 2 children, husband of 27 years and three Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
University of New Mexico School of Law, J.D., 1991, magna cum laude
- University of Rhode Island, M.S. Thesis in Botany, 1988, magna cum laude
Connecticut College, B.A. in Human Ecology, 1984, cum laude
- New Mexico
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
- U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico
- United States Supreme Court
"The Rio Grande Project: Federal & Interstate Obligations", CLE Law of The Rio Grande, Santa Fe, NM, March 30, 2012
"Hydrologic First Principles: The Interface Between the Technical and Legal in Water Resource Regulation," 57th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, Santa Fe, NM, July 23, 2011 (with Cynthia Ardito)
"Endangered Species Act and its Application to Energy Project Development," Law Seminars International, Eighth Annual Conference on Energy in the Southwest, July 11-12, 2011, Santa Fe, NM (with Deana M. Bennett)
"Overview of New Mexico Indian Water Rights Settlements," CLE International, Santa Fe, NM, June 17, 2011
Testimony before Senate Indian Affairs Committee on behalf of Western States Water Council, March 15, 2012, oversight hearing on Indian Water Rights; promoting the negotiation and implementation of water settlements in Indian Country.