Dialogue Newsletter – July 2021

Planning for an Unprecedented Water Deficit

That our state is getting drier and water resources are declining is clear. What is not so clear is how to respond. The Interstate Stream Commission is now working on a 50-year state water plan that should begin the process of developing strategies to meet a fraught future. This issue includes a letter from Aaron Chavez, our new president, which includes information on the development of the 50-year water plan, and article by Jeffrey Samson, our new vice-president, arguing for planning as the first step in responding to a changing and challenging environment.

Change in Leadership

We are sorry to announce that Jason John, our board president for almost ten years, resigned as president of the Board of Directors. His workload includes responding to the COVID-19 pandemic on the Navajo Reservation and implementing projects made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act. He is, we are happy to announce, remaining on the board. We wish him success in the many challenges and opportunities that he and the Navajo Nation face.

We are happy to announce that our current vice-president Aaron Chavez is now our president. We thank him for his continuing leadership. Jeffrey Samson is now our vice-president and Eileen Dodds continues as our secretary-treasurer.

A Letter from the President of the Board of Directors on the NM Water Dialogue 

Aaron Chavez

As I consider the present hydrologic state we New Mexicans face, complex seems to be a sound description. Drought is a force of nature all to itself; the ramifications associated with the present state of being is undeniable, but not unchallengeable. 

Dwellings spring from where water is accessible by means of streams, acequias, rivers, aquifers, ditches, lakes and dams.  Pipeline highways assist in disbursing water to our state’s industrial, municipal, and agricultural water users.  We all rely on these water sources to move our society forward, and in turn, we share in the consequences of a downturn in supply.  In our modern era, technological advancements in mapping weather patterns, river modeling and conservation measures, provide us the ability to best utilize available water supplies. 

 The New Mexico Water Dialogue 27th Annual Meeting was well received with a record registration of over 250 individuals.  Online participants varied as to the first-time scholar to the ever-present attendee.  While the setting was virtual, the goal of providing a venue for communicating ideas, sharing information and fostering a deeper understanding of New Mexico’s water needs never faltered.  Gratitude goes out to our board members in lending their skills in preparing, organizing and carrying out the tasks necessary in making this two-day event flow as seamlessly as possible and to our presenters who inspired attendees with their thought provoking subjects. And to the individual attendee who joined this virtual journey.  My hope is that we have started conversions that you will carry on long after the meeting has convened.  

The NM Office of the State Engineer, NM Interstate Stream Commission, NM Indian Affairs Department, NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Water Resource Research Institute are working to develop the 50-Year Water Plan.  The framework for developing the 50-Year Water Plan includes three major categories: 1. Climate Research Team; 2. Federal and State Partnership; and 3. Stakeholder Engagement.  One of the most important components of the planning process will be to make the expert(s) projections of water resource conditions in the future relatable to people, communities, public sector and industry. 

The 50-Year Water Plan is set as a four-phase process: Phase 1. Planning Approach and Coordination.Phase 2. Leap Ahead Analysis. Phase 3. Outreach, Resilience Assessment(s) and Creation of Strategies to Achieve Resilience. Phase 4. Produce, Review and Finalize Plan.  The process started on February 28, 2021 and the results of the planning process will be presented and discussed at the 2022 New Mexico Water Dialogues Annual Meeting. The New Mexico Water Dialogue supports the efforts of our participating federal and state agencies in bringing attention and direction to our state’s water planning process.  

As President of the New Mexico Water Dialogue, I am pleased to be part of an organization where thoughts and ideas are shared, analytical, technical and social talents are cultivated and utilized in working toward solutions. And it is through this commonality that we will move toward the betterment of our communities.  

We have a place for you if you have interest in becoming a member of the NM Water Dialogue.  I welcome you and I ask you to “not just consider the what if, but delve into the why not …?”   

New Mexico Water Dialogue
28th Annual Meeting
January 12 and 13, 2022
An Unprecedented Water Crisis:  A Time to Act

Planning is the First Essential Step in Responding to Intensifying Drought

Jeffrey Samson

Planning is an essential element of every endeavor of scale or consequence.  Our daily lives are layered with plans, and thankfully so.  In my line of work safety is of the upmost importance and is accomplished through careful preparation and action. Plans are often developed and implemented as a mitigation strategy or as a regulatory requirement (e.g. OSHA, MSHA).  In any case, no matter how mundane or routine the situation, plans increase the opportunity for success by identifying stakeholders, defining purpose or intent, and illuminating the process.  However, formation of a plan doesn’t guarantee action, or for that matter, success.  

As the region continues to experience intensifying drought, water planning seems like a good idea, as does eliminating lawns.  A plan that can assist our leadership and those in positions of making tough decisions on how to optimize our resources for generations to come.  One that incorporates the voices of all stakeholders, with policies and recommendations that are relative to each watershed.  One that places a value on nature and gives voices to the rivers that have sustained communities for millennia.  One that incorporates soil health as an integral aspect of watershed management and sustainability.  These are all issues that were raised at the Dialogue’s 2021 annual conference. 

As with any public plan, the most important aspects are buy-in and participation, and the best way to get these are through funding.  I can imagine two plans.  One formed with minimal funding and stakeholder input, where participants are unsure of the outcomes and whether or not substantive changes will take place, with the public nearly completely in the dark.  Another that is well funded and actively seeks stakeholder participation through a series of meetings and advertising campaigns, with clear goals and objectives, is transparent and equitable, and most importantly, contains implementable and funded recommendations.  

A large monetary investment in planning can garner the attention and recognition necessary to be relevant.  New Mexico is currently in the midst of developing a 50-year water plan.  Unfortunately, nearly everyone I speak with outside of the Dialogue doesn’t know this plan exists, and those that do know about it have little confidence in any meaningful outcomes due to historical under-funding of New Mexico’s water plans. With drought intensifying in the northern latitudes of the Rio Grande watershed, future allotments of Albuquerque’s San Juan water are uncertain.  The southwestern portion of the state, home to the Gila River, one of the most southernly snow fed rivers in the nation is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.  Aquifer levels up and down the eastern portion of the state are declining, and a word doesn’t need to be said about the middle or lower Rio Grande corridors, or does it?  There is no better time than now to come together and collaborate on a water plan, let alone a 50-year water plan.  One that will hopefully guide our State’s policies and investments for years to come. 

Coverage of 50-Year Water Plan

There is some important reporting on water issues in several printed and virtual formats.  We hope to include a few of them in each issue.

The Interstate Stream Commission’s website focused on the 50 year water plan in now available.  

There are also a number of documents that were in the handouts for the New Mexico Legislature’s Water and Natural Resource Interim Committee’s July meeting:

OSE/ISC, Water Planning in the Face of Long-Term Drought

David S. Gutzler, UNM Earth & Planetary Sciences (Emeritus) 

David DuBois, State Climatologist