Upstream-Downstream Project

Background note:The earlier Water Transfer Policies Project (WTPP) aimed to recommend policy changes to strengthen consideration of public values in water right transfer decisions. In the first phase we reviewed relevant portions of all the adopted RWPs and plans in progress. We examined whether the plans relate local public values and priorities to local hydrological realities, so that they could serve as a guide to the State Engineer in making transfer decisions. When the Interstate Stream Commission’s “State Water Plan-Regional Water Plans Ad Hoc Committee” was reconvened in 2005 and made water transfer criteria a part of its own work plan, the Dialogue board decided to focus on a more specific set of issues than the Ad Hoc Committee had chosen. This became the Upstream-Downstream Project.


The Middle Rio Grande Water Supply Study, Phase 3, projected for the Middle Rio Grande Basin (the Jemez y Sangre, MRG, and Socorro-Sierra regions between Otowi Gage and Elephant Butte Dam) a likely scenario – with full implementation of all mutually compatible alternatives in all of the regional water plans – resulting in an average RG Compact deficit of 7,100 acre-feet per year. This scenario simply adopts the hugely over-ambitious assumptions built into the plans themselves about achievable water savings from implementing those alternatives. Under more realistic assumptions, given the variations in supply, a Compact default does not seem unlikely. This constitutes a collective problem for the three regions affected; to address it realistically requires collaboration among all interested parties in these regions. They have a choice: to engage proactively in finding solutions, or to cede control of their water destiny to others.

The project, with major support from the McCune Charitable Foundation, initially consisted of a series of three professionally facilitated one-day workshops, involving a wide spectrum of stakeholder interests in the regions including local public officials. Regional water planning committees selected their own participants. Pueblo representatives were chosen separately because their interests had not been effectively represented in the development of the regional plans. Participants explored the coordination problem and the collective dilemma they faced in how to share the limited renewable supply available within the Basin.

Originally, the project was to develop a “white paper” – a working document to be shared with regional planning committees, the ISC RWP-SWP Ad Hoc Committee, and others, describing a proposed mechanism for (1) revisiting and resolving conflicts in the recommendations of the three RWPs, and (2) negotiating about specific inter-regional transfer applications. The project has moved well beyond this stage, and (as of January 2008)is in the process of finalizing a “scope of work” for inter-regional cooperation, as described below.


Assumptions, whether by public officials or other interested parties, that a region, jurisdiction, or sector of society can pursue its perceived self-interest without regard to the impacts of its decisions on the whole – in this case, the Middle Rio Grande Basin (encompassing the reach between the Otowi Gage and Elephant Butte Reservoir) – seem likely to have the opposite effect, leaving all parties worse off. 

The primary example of this is a potential under delivery of water to Texas in violation of the Rio Grande Compact. A default on the Compact stands out because it is easy to measure, and because the consequences (at least the immediate ones) are predictable and would have major impacts on the residents dependent on waters of the Basin. But there are other consequences of chronic, unmanaged shortages of water – even if there were no Compact default – to local rural and urban economies, to the sustainability of the Basin’s ecosystem, and therefore ultimately to the livability of our communities. 

The regional water plans of the three regions within the Basin took major steps, enabling those involved in their development to understand the sources and limits of their regions’ supply, the nature of current demand on that supply, and the projected future demand over a 40-year horizon. The planning process also allowed the people in each region to state, given these understandings, what values they wished to promote in the allocation of that supply – how the “public welfare” of their regions would be enhanced by favoring some strategies over others. 

Though regional water plans tried to deal with supply and demand issues within their regions, they did not overcome the problem of inter-regional coordination. We also lack institutions for ensuring that the regional water planning alternatives are implemented, much less the conflicts addressed. This project is an important element in understanding and creating the necessary conditions for successful implementation of regional water plans, especially where such inter-regional conflicts exist. It will enable affected interests and jurisdictions within the three MRG planning regions to learn about the conflicts and complementarities in their plans and to identify and recommend ways to work together to increase cooperation and resolve conflicts.

The Initial Workshop Series (Summer-Fall 2006)

The major work of this project was planned for three workshop sessions. These were held on Monday, June 26, Tuesday, August 22, and Tuesday, September 26. (The agendas and summaries of these workshops, along with background materials, can be reviewed by clicking on appropriate links below.)  The organizers anticipated that based on common understanding of the physical and institutional dimensions of the problem developed in the first meeting, the second would focus on developing alternative strategies for addressing the issues and the third on specific recommendations, to be embodied in the “white paper.” This proved to be too optimistic. The Dialogue report on the workshops discusses the reasons. 

Follow-up: an ongoing dialogue

A sub-group of workshop participants met several times between November 2006 and June 2007 under the auspices of the Utton Transboundary Resources Center at the UNM School of Law to develop a proposed work plan to continue the cooperative efforts begun in the workshops. A fourth workshop was held in August 2007 and relevant materials are posted below.

Workshop 1 (W1) Background Material and Summary – (To view or download click on links in or below each item.) 

Agenda – “Getting on the Same Page”

MRG RWP presentation: excerpts

Socorro-Sierra RWP Summary

SS Papadopulos & Associates – Presentation of findings from the MRG Water Supply Study – Phase 3

SSPA MRG WSS Presentation

Tom Turney on MRG overappropriation

Brent Bullock on Lessons from the Pecos 

Summary W1 tracking proposed clarifications by ISC and SSPA 

Summary W1 with changes accepted

Workshop 2 (W2) Background Material and Summary 

Link to full MRG Water Supply Study Phase 3 Final Report

Glossary – Terms used in MRGWSS

MRG RWP additional material including Preferred Scenario and Public Welfare Statement

Sig Silber’s coauthored presentation to WNRC on role of technology to increase supply

W2 final summary 

Workshop 3 (W3) Background Material and Summary

Draft agenda for Workshop 3

SSPA presentation on reconciling regional water budgets

Workshop 3 Summary

Report on the Workshops (reprinted from Dialogue, December 2006) “The Upstream-Downstream Project: Prospects for Trust and Cooperation among Regions Sharing a Common Source of Water” 

Click here to read the report.

Click here for workshop participant list 

Post-2006 Workshop Series Planning with the Utton CenterUtton Center-sponsored Subgroup Meetings on Basin-Wide Coordination and Strategy Options

Notes 11-08-06 

Notes 12-13-06 

Notes January 11, 2007

Notes January 29, 2007 

Notes June 19, 2007 

Go to the Utton Transboundary Center’s report on the work of the Subgroup by clicking the link below:Report to the Upstream-Downstream Steering Committee Regarding Work of the Subgroup by Susan Kelly, Utton Transboundary Resources Center

Workshop 4 (August 22, 2007) Materials 

Draft Agenda – Workshop 4

Draft MRG Basin Problem Statement 8-20-07

SSPA 10-22-06 summary MRG Water Budget: Present and Projected

Handout: “Consistency…of regional plans”

Workshop 4 Summary – click on the link below:

Workshop 4 Summary

Presentations by OSE/ISC Staff:

Rolf Schmidt-Petersen on MRG Basin Sustainability and Implications of RG Compact

John Longworth on Consistency in Water Use Accounting


Read the work statement here,

Notes – 12-1-08 planning meeting

Workshop 5 –  April 7, 2009

Workshop 5 agenda (as of 3/12/09)

Workshop 5 summary

Note on completion of the DBSA Report: Although the report contains a great deal of useful material, the full group, in its April 7, 2009, workshop, could not agree to post it to the Water Dialogue website because of concerns about the methodology by which it aggregated regional water budgets. The group agreed that further technical work was required and, as discussed at the meeting, the ISC does not have funding to pay for this. 

Work products from Working Groups created during Workshop 5

Policy Work Group Report to Full U-D Forum

U-D Support/Governance Work Group Scope of Work