Dialogue Newsletter – June 2021

Facing a Much Drier Future

It is hot and dry, and it is a struggle to prepare for and endure inadequate water supplies.  The articles below describe two approaches to facing reduced water supplies.

Confronting Water Shortages in the Lower Rio Grande

Gary Esslinger

State Representative Dow called a meeting on May 7th in Truth or Consequences, NM. It was a hybrid zoom meeting where Federal, State and local businesses met to discuss the crisis building up at Elephant Butte (EB) reservoir as the summer progresses and storage levels drop to record lows, maybe as low as 10,000 ac/ft. and heaven forbid a fish kill. In attendance were the Compact Commissioners from NM and Texas, Bureau of Reclamation and State Parks officials, MRGCD and EBID were present along with the Marina owners and local business operations. Staffers from the Congressional offices also listened to the discussion.

The meeting was centered around the historic operations of the Compact and how the debit and credit accounting could play a factor in help keeping a minimum pool if the three Compact states could agree. Everyone’s input was focused on their needs and certainly it all boiled down to there is no water available anywhere on the river for anyone to give up to help what could appear as a crisis situation unless the upcoming monsoon season provided some relief.

History has a tendency to repeat itself and it was pointed out that in the early 50’s and even in the 70’s, lake levels dropped even lower than anticipated for this coming year. 

It was clear to everyone that more long-term planning had to be initiated to prevent levels to drop to such a low and it would take a tremendous amount of negotiating under the Rio Grande Compact accounting methods as well as with upstream and downstream users to coordinate a workable plan.

Representative Dow suggested that each agency in attendance provide a list of recommendation to stabilize storage levels in all the NM reservoirs and the cost benefits that could be presented to the State Legislators as well as the Congressional Delegation in DC to provide for Water infrastructure Funding being contemplated in Congress and the next NM legislative session.

The uncertainty of spring runoff and current minimum inflows into EB presents a problem to predict the final level of storage at EB reservoir at the end of the summer, but it was the consensus of the group that as much water as possible should remain tin EB rather than spread out in Caballo reservoir below. 

FYI: EBID is forecasting a 4” inch/acre allotment to its farmers this year and that spells out about a 35 day irrigation season and we are finished for the season. We will start up on June 1st and probably run out of our surface water allotment the first week of July. Pray for Rain!

Improving Preparedness in the Rio Grande Basin 

Alex Puglisi

Several environmental non-governmental organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation, are participating in an upper Rio Grande basin study to be performed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) Albuquerque Area Office (AAO), in collaboration with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (District), the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (Water Authority), and representatives from a broad range of interests within the Rio Grande Basin. The purpose of the Rio Grande – New Mexico Basin Study (Basin Study) is to cooperatively increase the preparedness of a portion of the Upper Rio Grande basin to changes in its water supply and water needs that are projected to result from changes to climate and hydrology, as well as from human development and other factors. There is a need within this portion of the Rio Grande Basin to assess the potential future hydrologic conditions within the basin, and to formulate strategies, which may include changes to infrastructure, water operations, distribution, or law and policy, that can address these challenges and allow the basin’s unique human culture and ecosystems to continue to thrive in this basin into the future.   

The Basin Study partners seek to build a path that allows leaders in the basin to create a resilient, economically sound, and environmentally healthy basin that is ready to meet the coming challenges.  This Basin Study presents a unique opportunity to collaboratively develop projections of future water supply and demand and to use them, along with available computer modeling tools and resources, to investigate possible paths forward. The Basin Study partners see the Basin Study as an opportunity for an exploration of adaptation strategies that go beyond current operating practices, infrastructure capacity, and legal/policy constraints. The partners will explore, both quantitatively and qualitatively, strategies that could change the paradigm for water operations in the Study Area. The Study will aim to be a collaborative, holistic study that acknowledges that the communities in the Study Area are connected and will need to continue to work together to address future challenges and to maintain or build a basin in which we can all continue to thrive.

In order to meet the Basin Study purpose, study partners will collaboratively develop adaptations to projected water supply and demand challenges in the Rio Grande basin.  These adaptations will be developed by the Basin Study partners, and will be technically evaluated, and compared to each other through a structured trade-off analysis process.  The results of these analyses and comparisons will be used to develop a decision support tool for water and land managers in the Study Area to aid them in making informed water-management policies and in developing programs and projects that enhance resilience to coming changes in water availability and use.

Further information about the study can be obtained from Emma Kelly, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, at (505) 462-3787. If you are interested in NGO workgroup participation, you can contact Paul Tashjian, NM Audubon Society, at (505) 217- 4531.

Coverage of Increasingly Limited Water Supplies

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.