Dialogue Newsletter – December 2021

New Mexico’s Water Future

One year ago, the Interstate Stream Commission introduced its mandate from Governor Lujan-Grisham to prepare a “50-Year Water Plan.”  At the next Dialogue annual meeting in January 2022, the Interstate Stream Commission will present a draft of that plan that will include strategies to become more resilient in the face of reduced water supplies.  In addition, this issue also has a focus on groundwater which, with a reduction in rain fall, is becoming more vulnerable to depletions, as well as comments from two of our state legislators. strategies to meet a fraught future.


New Mexico Water Dialogue’s 28th Annual Meeting/January 12 and 13, 2022

New Mexico’s climate is increasingly variable, hotter and drier.  How will New Mexico respond?  What steps can we take to improve our resiliency? How can we adapt? Many changes will be expensive, some may increase competition between users and communities, and some problems may remain unsolvable.  

Despite the severity of changes to our climate, New Mexicans have an opportunity to analyze the most effective responses to climate change.  The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) is leading a collaborative effort to develop the 50-Year Water Plan initiated by Governor Lujan Grisham. The New Mexico Water Dialogue has partnered with ISC in this effort. The first phase of the planning process was the “Leap Ahead” analysis, an assessment of current and future water resource conditions and risk.  The next steps are to assess resilience and develop adaptation strategies.  The ISC plans to present and seek input on the results from everyone attending the 2022 annual meeting of the New Mexico Water Dialogue.  The plan will be finalized in the spring of 2022.

Please join us on January 12 and 13 for the New Mexico Water Dialogue’s 28th Annual Meeting “An Unprecedented Water Crisis: A Time to Act” to participate in this effort and make your contribution to the development of New Mexico’s 50-Year Water Plan and possible adaption strategies for an uncertain future. For full conference details, you can review and download the agenda as well as register here.

Save the Date

Please join us on January 12th and 13th for the New Mexico Water Dialogue’s 28th Virtual Annual Meeting: “An Unprecedented Water Crisis: A Time to Act.”

One year ago, the Interstate Stream Commission introduced its mandate from Governor Lujan-Grisham to prepare a “50-Year Water Plan.”  At the next Dialogue annual meeting in January 2022, the Interstate Stream Commission will present a draft of that plan that will include strategies to become more resilient in the face of reduced water supplies.

50-Year Water Plan Update

The 50-Year Water Plan has three phases: the “Leap Ahead” analysis of projected climate changes impacting water; resilience assessments; and development of adaptation strategies.  The Leap Ahead Analysis is comprehensive including for example sessions on public water systems, agriculture, and watersheds. 

For more information on the 50-Year Water Plan including reports, surveys, and events, go to: https://www.ose.state.nm.us/Planning/50YWP/index.php

Proactive Groundwater Management in Times of Climate Change

by Maurice Hall, VP, Ecosystems-Water, Environmental Defense Fund

In July, I had the opportunity to roam amongst the beauty of northern New Mexico for several days. The rain that poured nearly every day seemed incongruous with the pinyon-juniper-cholla vegetation and the dark red “extreme drought” that was painted on the U.S. Drought Monitor maps across New Mexico and much of the Southwest. Yet I know these contrasts and extremes bear the distinct fingerprints of climate change, and New Mexico and the Southwest are certain to see more of these and other stressors in the coming decades.

I’ve spent a good part of the last 30 years working on groundwater issues across the West, mostly in California, including helping to pass that state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014. Since then, my EDF colleagues and I have been eagerly developing strategies to help local partners effectively implement that new law. In my presentations and discussions, I often talk about the magic of groundwater. I firmly believe that in many places, our water supply’s resilience to climate change will depend on more proactive management of our groundwater basins, on leveraging the seemingly magical function of the underground part of our water supply system. 

While it isn’t really magic — we know how groundwater works — our groundwater basins are an incredible form of natural infrastructure that collect water from many sources over a wide area, including rainwater, leakage from flowing streams and deep percolation of irrigation water. The top layers of soil and sediment overlying groundwater basins filter and treat the water, often times ensuring it’s drinking water quality, right out of the well. In fact, groundwater wells supply more than two thirds of public and domestic drinking water in New Mexico.

In many locations, water from aquifers also sustains streams and rivers and supports important groundwater-dependent ecosystems, like the many wetlands and springs and seeps across New Mexico.

Imagine how much it would cost to build infrastructure that is so critically important to New Mexico’s public health, economy, food production and natural habitats. Although we didn’t build this invaluable natural infrastructure, we should maintain it, given its importance. Yet most maintenance of groundwater basins to date has largely been passive or reactive, responding only when wells go dry or become contaminated. These aquifers have been quietly doing their work, delivering high quality water to thousands of wells across New Mexico — until climate change.

With climate change, the aquifers will still do their work, but the amount of water they collect, store and deliver will decline as rain and snowfall decline and temperatures increase. We also expect more extreme storms and more frequent and severe droughts. And increased temperatures driven by climate change will cause more water to evaporate from the soil and transpire off plants. 

Climate change means we can’t expect groundwater basins to continue delivering the same amount of water. To avoid water supply disruptions for our communities and degradation of our ecosystems and stream flows, we need to proactively manage our groundwater basins.

What does that proactive groundwater management look like? Here are some important strategies.

Getting groundwater management right starts with community engagement. Everyone affected by groundwater policies should be involved in decision-making, which increases transparency, accountability, and helps build trust and long-lasting solutions.

On the supply side, we have historically relied on natural recharge to refill our aquifers. However, we can more proactively manage the resources we have to bolster supply through strategies like managed recharge, which involves capturing and storing water during short intense storms. 

We also must reduce demand. In urban areas, drought-tolerant landscaping can help. Where irrigated agriculture is a large groundwater user, incentivizing voluntary strategic repurposing of some farmlands to reduce demand and provide other benefits, such as habitat for wildlife or open space for communities, is an important tool for bringing basins into balance.

Data and accounting tools are critical to understanding and managing a groundwater system because, as the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. EDF, NASA, Desert Research Institute and other partners recently launched an online tool called OpenET to make data on water consumed by crops and other vegetation (evapotranspiration) widely accessible across 17 western states. OpenET will enable many new strategies that haven’t been possible without this important piece of water data. It’s already being used by a water district near Bakersfield, California, which worked with EDF to build an online water accounting platform to let landowners track their basic water budget and eventually trade water. 

With the blessing of the strong monsoon season that I experienced in New Mexico this summer, the deep reds of the drought map have faded to yellows and oranges. But the extended droughts and intense storms are certain to return. New Mexico and the desert Southwest will undoubtedly feel the water impacts of climate change more severely than less arid areas. If these regions are to weather the coming decades without severe water disruptions, it will almost certainly be because thoughtful leaders upped the region’s groundwater management game, proactively harnessing the magic of groundwater to build resilience to climate change.

Reflections on New Mexico’s Water

Representative Rebecca Dow

While southern New Mexico was most fortunate to have had a pretty good monsoon season this year, much work remains to be done to ensure our limited water resources are used efficiently and properly in the Lower Rio Grande region.  All of the experts are predicting that southern New Mexico’s future will be dominated by lower rainfall and limited surface water, but such dire predictions do not necessarily mean the future should be viewed with alarm and fear.   I am confident the resourcefulness and the ingenuity of New Mexicans will result in developing new strategies and ideas on how best to deal with our water issues.  It may not be easy, but by working together we will rise to the occasion and meet the challenge. 

Nonetheless, it is essential that local, state, and federal government officials partner with farmers, ranchers, local businesses and local communities to ensure that our available water resources are not mismanaged.  That is why I recently called a meeting of government officials to discuss the short-term and long-term future of Elephant Butte Lake.  This local resource is so important to the Lower Rio Grande region’s economic health, that I felt it was essential to bring policymakers together and begin the effort to ensure there is sufficient water in the lake for recreational, agricultural, and other needs of our local communities.   Preserving the viability of Elephant Butte Reservoir is and will continue to be one of my most important priorities. 

The protection of our limited water resources in the Lower Rio Grande region must be a coordinated effort among all shareholders.  Our region is lucky to have the NM Water Dialogue as a leading voice in this effort and I look forward to working with the organization in the weeks and months ahead. 

Senator Siah Hemphill 

Few issues tie our state together the way water does. Our economy, our culture, and our very existence depends on it.  And the challenges New Mexico faces around water are massive. But I am optimistic that with the right investments, leadership, and bold moves we can begin to address these very serious challenges head on. Now is the time for us to take action and I think the stars have aligned to do just that. Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act just signed by President Biden, New Mexico will receive over $350 million to improve water infrastructure across the state. Governor Lujan Grisham just announced a new state water advisor to help develop policies that set New Mexico toward responsible and conservative water management practices. And I’m committed to ensure that we in the legislature prioritize improvements in our infrastructure so that our farmers and families continue to have safe, reliable sources of water to meet their many needs. And perhaps most importantly, we cannot afford to ignore the effects of climate change. Focusing on conservation and long-term planning is absolutely essential in these efforts.

Welcome Hilario Romero

The Dialogue welcomes Hilario Romero to its board of directors.  Hilario Romero is a New Mexican Mestizo-Genizaro. He was a professor of History, Spanish and Education for forty-two years at Northern New Mexico College as well as the New Mexico State Historian and a former Archivist at the New Mexico State Archives. He was also the Director of Education, Employment & Training for the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, 1982-83. During the past few years, he has published a series of historical articles regarding the cultural and historical communities of northern New Mexico. 

Balancing Water and Development in the East Mountains

News from Laura Paskus’s “Land Weekly”

Laura has been reporting on water and growth for years.  In 2017, she aired a show about dropping groundwater levels in the East Mountains.  She followed up this year again looking at the interaction between water availability and continuing development there with Philip Rust, hydrogeologist on groundwater levels in the East Mountains (and elsewhere in Bernalillo County).

The news now? It’s not great.  You can watch that conversation, “Balancing Water and Development in the East Mountains at  https://portal.knme.org/video/balancing-water-and-development-in-the-east-mountains-pmwcsf/, There are also additional short videos, including one about how to get involved in that monitoring program. (Here’s a link to the form Rust mentions in this conversation.)  

“Telling the Story of an Invisible Resource” by Kate Zeigler in the New Mexico Land Conservancy Magazine: https://indd.adobe.com/view/5ef9dfa6-4ef5-498a-9e88-51e699f7980d

“As Our Water Future Dries Up, Are We Paying Attention?” by Hilario Romero in the Old Santa Fe Association’s “¡El Boletin!”: http://www.oldsantafe.org/uploads/9/4/7/4/94746554/osfa_newsletter_2021_final_proof_10.pdf.