- Dialogue – Fall 2019
- New Mexico First Town Hall on Water Planning, Development & Use 2014
Final Report from the Town Hall Released
Earlier this month, New Mexico First released the final report of recommendations from the Town Hall on Water Planning, Development & Use, held April 15-16, 2014 in Albuquerque. The recommendations fell into five major themes. The list below offers a high-level summary. Additional details, including concrete strategies for advancing each theme, are provided in the complete report. Click here to download the report.
You may also download the Background Report provided to Town Hall participants. Download report by clicking here.
- Dramatic water changes coming for the Southwest
Water’s future is not bright, dire warning issued. Aug. 13, 2013 Logan Hawkes
With so many disaster movies in recent years, it’s hard to spotlight the dire water straits the Southwest faces without it sounding a lot like a Roland Emmerich or James Cameron film.
But like the sinking of the “Titanic”, the end of the world in “2012” or the alien invasion of “Independence Day”, the serious and scientific predictability of a severe water shortage in the Colorado River basin may be devastating for seven U.S. states and even threatening to an international water treaty.
While the headline grabbing impact of an earth-shattering statement about a water shortage disaster seems to verge on being overly dramatic, the truth is, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming. Serious water shortages in the West and Southwest have been on the mind of just about every water stakeholder in the region for a number of years. Lake levels have been dropping, hydrologists have been screaming, and environmentalists have been sounding the alarm over climate change for at least the last 20 years.
Warning of shortages
But now, in spite of all the previous warnings, a new report expected this week from the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation is expected to warn the current and serious water shortages of the region will cause a reduced release of water from Lake Powell next year for the first time in over 50 years. To be exact, the cut is expected to measure about 750,000 acre-feet of water that will not flow, for the first time, to the 25 million people who depend upon it.
It’s the kind of news that spurs disaster movie writers to action. Just look at who, and what, will feel the impact of a water release cut.
Water released from the Colorado River each year irrigates 4 million acres of farm land and services 40 million people in total. It is used for various purposes by residents and industry in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California. The release of 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico by an international water treaty would be affected if more serious water shortages on the river should occur.
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The anticipated cut in water released from Lake Powell next year represents nearly a 10 percent reduction in water that will flow to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. Water released from the Lake is also used by 22 Native American tribes who depend on it, as do 11 national parks and seven wildlife refuges.
To better explain the seriousness of water shortages in the West and Southwest, it is important to note that Lake Powell above Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead above Hoover Dam are the two largest water reservoirs in the nation. Because of the long-reaching drought combined with an extreme reduction in melted snowpack in recent years, the two lakes are currently less than half full. Reports indicate that inflows into the lakes are at historic low levels as well, and the forecast, so to speak, calls for more of the same — less water.
As the water crisis expands in the foreseeable future and to further complicate the problem of less water for use by cities, farms and industry downstream, another type of potential disaster looms. A hydroelectric plant at Glen Canyon Dam produces enough juice to serve an estimated 1.3 million people. Revenue from the sale of that electricity fuels the operation of the Colorado River Storage Project. It also provides funds in support of a number of environmental restoration projects in the basin.
Shortages of power
But water officials are warning that as the levels of the lakes and river continue to drop, the threat to hydroelectric production rises. While no one is predicting a failure of the facility to continue operating, many are expressing concern that it is becoming a real possibility.
To make matters worse, recent studies indicate demand for water will continue to rise while the amount of available water is likely to diminish, furthering the prospects for an environmental and social disaster. For the Southwest, water shortages in the Rio Grande basin and along the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico and the dry western reaches of Texas further complicate water problems in the region and add to the possibility of an unprecedented water shortage all across the Southwest.
When the Bureau of Reclamation report comes out this week, many are predicting it will include a shortage declaration, a clear sign the problem has elevated beyond a simple possibility to one that poses a serious threat to life in the West and Southwest.
For those that believe climate change is little more than political saber rattling, perhaps it is time to listen to the warning of Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science in the Department of Interior, who recently said the current circumstances on the Colorado River are “unprecedented.” She warns the last few years represent the driest period for the Colorado River since records have been kept.
Climate change or not, the potential for disaster is very real.
- New federal study indicates less available water for New Mexico
Rising temperatures prompted by climate change will bring about increasing difficulty for New Mexico to meet its legal obligation to deliver water to downstream neighbors in the years ahead, according to a new federal study developed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sandia National Laboratory.
The study offers disturbing news to both New Mexico state officials who must legally guarantee a prescribed flow of water in the Rio Grande Basin will pass down to Texas each year, and to Texas water officials who are currently involved in litigation against New Mexico over water deliveries related to the Rio Grande Compact, a tri-state agreement between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas on how water from the river will be shared.
Representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and Sandia Laboratory were on hand to discuss the new study at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History last week. The presentation, titled “Impacts of Climate Change on the Upper Rio Grande Basin: Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies,” paints a dire picture for New Mexico’s ability to deliver water in the future because of higher demands and reduced flows caused by higher rates of evaporation, smaller expected snow packs and other environmental developments caused by a warmer climate.
“Water supplies are diminishing while demand is becoming greater,” said Sandia Laboratory hydrologist Jesse Roach, one of the study’s authors. Roach said there is an increasing need to change water use strategies in order to prepare for climate-induced water shortages in the basin in the years ahead. He says scientists have been warning for years of coming changes in the environment that will result in water availability losses across the Southwest, and he further warned “those times have arrived.”
The study was lead by Dagmar Llewellyn at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque office and was part of the agency’s West Wide Climate Risk Assessment, a comprehensive two-year study designed to determine water supply risks basin-by-basin across the western region of the United States. Also contributing to the study was the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
New Mexico is currently embroiled in litigation initiated by Texas officials, namely, a federal lawsuit filed with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the nation’s top judges to take up a dispute over whether current New Mexico water practices are illegally depleting the Rio Grande’s flow before it can reach the Texas border.
The Texas Attorney General is arguing excessive groundwater pumping across areas of New Mexico that are within the river’s recharge zone is further reducing flow and subsequently using up water that legally is earmarked by the tri-state water compact as belonging to Texas.
Scientists involved in the study say the July 10 public presentation at the museum in Albuquerque was the first of several planned across the state in preparation for the release of the full study in the weeks ahead. Llewellyn and Roach have been presenting their results at scientific conferences in the past, including a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in June in the nation’s capital, but the presentation at the museum last week represents the first public address on the study’s results.
During the presentation, Llewellyn warned the only way to counter the negative impacts of climate change on water availability in the state is to develop better water use strategies.
“A lot of it’s going to be just figuring out our priorities,” she said.
The study used climate simulations to determine the effects of dwindling water flows in the Rio Grande. Using Sandia Lab’s Upper Rio Grande Simulation Model, scientists determined how changes in river flows would affect the dams and diversions used by the valley’s farms and cities and how that would limit the amount of water that reached Elephant Butte Reservoir.
Those shortcomings will, according to the study, prevent New Mexico from meeting its water obligations to Texas. If changes are not made in the tri-state water compact, which are unlikely, New Mexico will be required to mandate water use strategies by river stakeholders within the state, including city water departments, agricultural irrigation districts, and the state’s farming and ranching industry.
In addition to catching river flows to meet legal obligation to Texas, the Elephant Butte Reservoir also provides New Mexico the means to deliver water to Mexico according to an international water treaty and to farmers and ranchers in southern New Mexico.
- Researchers Look at Water Leasing Project as Possible Option for State Water Issues
With drought becoming more and more evident in the Land of Enchantment, water users and managers in New Mexico might have some tough decisions to make in the future without any help from Mother Nature. As long term drought persists and water supplies tighten, policymakers in New Mexico might have to think creatively to find flexibility when it comes to satisfying the thirsty needs of the state.
A simple, stylized representation of a complex trading and leasing system.
UNM Economics Professor David Brookshire and colleagues Vince Tidwell and Marissa Reno-Trujillo (Sandia National Labs), Don Coursey (University of Chicago) and Craig Broadbent (Illinois-Wesleyan University), have developed a project over the past 10 years that integrates the natural and physical setting of a river system into an economic market structure to test if water leasing markets or short term reallocation of water rights, is economically and hydrologically feasible.
The project was developed with help from SAHRA, U.S. Geological Survey, Science Impact Laboratory for Policy and Economics or SILPE and the Bureau of Reclamation through the Office of the State Engineer, have developed the project for several reasons.
“Given the difficulty of transferring permanent rights due to time and the hearings involved, and cultural issues associated with permanent transfers, the idea is to develop a water leasing institution that enables additional flexibility into the system in times of drought, in over allocated basins (or otherwise) and in a timely way,” Brookshire said. “The idea is institutionally driven by the State Water Plan calling for mechanism for ‘replacement water’ in times of call. The bottom line is the need for flexibility.”
To accomplish this goal, a system dynamics framework is employed to model the Rio Grande Basin between Cochiti and Elephant Butte Reservoirs in New Mexico. Using the tools of experimental economics, a market model is then coupled with this hydrologic model in five distinct stages.
- Stage 1: provided a stylized framework that allows researchers to address the feasibility of a water leasing market, testing if participants can handle the cognitive complexity of trading under different climatic scenarios
- Stage 2: included an extension of the stylized framework to include cash and capital crop farmers. Cash crop farmers were modeled to grow either hay or chile and could choose from 1–10 acres on one-acre intervals the amount of crop to be planted
- Stage 3: extended the stage 2 model to examine the use of a futures market to allow participants to hedge against water uncertainty. This model allowed for futures trading within a growing season and across growing seasons
- Stage 4: developed a medium resolution modeling to address the issue of third party impacts from trading within ditches and between ditches. Using a finer scale hydrologic model for the section of the Rio Grande located around Albuquerque, New Mexico water trading scenarios have been developed to discover if third party effects are present and the impact of these effects
- Stage 5: developed the Mimbres Basin water leasing market, a project developed in cooperation with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer to create a real time leasing market for the basins users
“The whole idea began when many disciplines were brought together under SAHRA to see what we can do to address water issues,” Brookshire said. “As part of the defining agenda, it was obvious the whole system of appropriated rights is somewhat of a stumbling block. The senior water rights owners in the Mimbres are south or down river, while junior water rights owners are further up north. Markets are how people design them – some are good and some are bad.
“This scenario is called a double oral auction to buy and sell, the trade is consummated and both parties agree to the exchange for an agreed upon price. In other words, they voluntarily buy and sell water which yields a price path for that water. If water is traded, the surface and ground water models would calculate if the water is actually there, how much will arrive (consider evaporation losses) and whether or not there are third party effects.”
For Stage 5 in the Mimbres Basin, the idea involved junior water rights users potentially acquiring water rights from senior owners; again where the idea of flexibility is important.
“In the process, we asked stakeholders ‘what’s important’ for the market design,” Brookshire said. “We used experimental economics for all stages, which specially allowed us to test the conceptual frame for the Upper Mimbres Basin.”
Media Contact: Steve Carr (505) 277‑1821, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Say goodbye to Phoenix — and the American West
The Colorado River powers cities across Arizona. But with temperatures rising, how long will the water hold out? —– By William deBuys — Salon, July 30, 2013 — [This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.]
Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 – Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.
One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.
These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona. On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.
Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.
It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.
By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.
Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.
The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out?
Major Powell’s Main Point
Every trip down the river — and there are more than 1,000 like ours yearly — partly reenacts the legendary descent of the Colorado by the one-armed explorer and Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. The Major, as he preferred to be known, plunged into the Great Unknown with 10 companions in 1869. They started out in four boats from Green River, Wyoming, but one of the men walked out early after nearly drowning in the stretch of whitewater that Powell named Disaster Falls, and three died in the desert after the expedition fractured in its final miles. That left Powell and six others to reach the Mormon settlements on the Virgin River in the vicinity of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada.
Powell’s exploits on the Colorado brought him fame and celebrity, which he parlayed into a career that turned out to be controversial and illustrious in equal measure. As geologist, geographer, and ethnologist, Powell became one of the nation’s most influential scientists. He also excelled as an institution-builder, bureaucrat, political in-fighter, and national scold.
Most famously, and in bold opposition to the boomers and boosters then cheerleading America’s westward migration, he warned that the defining characteristic of western lands was their aridity. Settlement of the West, he wrote, would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.
He was half right.
The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society’s thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles you’d hardly know it.
By the middle years of the twentieth century, western Americans had created a kind of miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from Powell’s aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, and scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, as well as more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels, and diversions, the West has by now been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It has been given the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process, its liquid resources have been stretched far beyond anything the Major might have imagined.
Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to some 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations, and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.
These achievements come at a cost. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and down here in the bowels of the canyon, its diminishment is everywhere in evidence. In many places, the riverbanks wear a tutu of tamarisk trees along their edge. They have been able to dress up, now that the river, constrained from major flooding, no longer rips their clothes off.
The daily hydroelectric tides gradually wash away the sandbars and beaches that natural floods used to build with the river’s silt and bed load (the sands and gravels that roll along its bottom). Nowadays, nearly all that cargo is trapped in Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. The water the dam releases is clear and cold (drawn from the depths of the lake), which is just the thing for nonnative trout, but bad news for homegrown chubs and suckers, which evolved, quite literally, in the murk of ages past. Some of the canyon’s native fish species have been extirpated from the canyon; others cling to life by a thread, helped by the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the last few days, we’ve seen more fisheries biologists along the river and its side-streams than we have tourists.
The Shrinking Cornucopia
In the arid lands of the American West, abundance has a troublesome way of leading back again to scarcity. If you have a lot of something, you find a way to use it up — at least, that’s the history of the “development” of the Colorado Basin.
Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of that basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry Arizona, the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.
Those days are gone. The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it’s not enough, and never will be.
Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 maf per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.
That 1.3 maf overage consists of evaporation, system losses, and the Lower Basin’s share of the annual U.S. obligation to Mexico of 1.5 maf. As it happens, the region budgets for none of these “costs” of doing business, and if pressed, some of its leaders will argue that the Mexican treaty is actually a federal responsibility, toward which the Lower Basin need not contribute water.
The Lower Basin funds its deficit by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can’t last forever, and maybe not for long. In November 2010, the water level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever — 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.
Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are predicted for the region in the future — the reservoir would have soon fallen another seven feet and triggered the threshold for mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the northern Rockies bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.
Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry, and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity. Lake Powell, Mead’s alter ego, is in about the same condition.
Another dry year or two, and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis. There is, however, a consolation — of sorts. The Colorado is nowhere near as badly off as New Mexico and the Rio Grande.
How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos
In May, New Mexico marked the close of the driest two-year period in the 120 years since records began to be kept. Its largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, which stores water from the Rio Grande, is effectively dry.
Meanwhile, parched Texas has filed suit against New Mexico in multiple jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court, to force the state to send more water downstream — water it doesn’t have. Texas has already appropriated $5 million to litigate the matter. If it wins, the hit taken by agriculture in south-central New Mexico could be disastrous.
In eastern New Mexico, the woes of the Pecos River mirror those of the Rio Grande and pit the Pecos basin’s two largest cities, Carlsbad and Roswell, directly against each other. These days, the only thing moving in the irrigation canals of the Carlsbad Irrigation District is dust. The canals are bone dry because upstream groundwater pumping in the Roswell area has deprived the Pecos River of its flow. By pumping heavily from wells that tap the aquifer under the Pecos River, Roswell’s farmers have drawn off water that might otherwise find its way to the surface and flow downstream.
Carlsbad’s water rights are senior to (that is, older than) Roswell’s, so in theory — under the doctrine of Prior Appropriation – Carlsbad is entitled to the water Roswell is using. The dispute pits Carlsbad’s substantial agricultural economy against Roswell’s, which is twice as big. The bottom line, as with Texas’s lawsuit over the Rio Grande, is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around.
If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.
Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes
New Mexico’s present struggles, difficult as they may be, will look small-scale indeed when compared to what will eventually befall the Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river’s 40 million water-users to grow to between 49.3 and 76.5 million by 2060. This translates into a thirst for Colorado River water of 18.1 to 20.4 maf — oceans more than its historical yield of 16.4 maf.
And that’s not even the bad news, which is that, compared to the long-term paleo-record, the historical average, compiled since the late nineteenth century, is aberrantly high. Moreover, climate change will undoubtedly take its toll, and perhaps has already begun to do so. One recent study forecasts that the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that.
None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. “Augmentation” — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest’s thirst. Weather modification, aka rain-making, isn’t much more effective today than it was in 1956 when Burt Lancaster starred as a water-witching con man in “The Rainmaker,” and vegetation management (so that trees and brush will consume less water) is a non-starter when climate change and epidemic fires are already reworking the landscape.
Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources here and there, but the surest prospect for the West? That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers in the region can look forward to full employment for decades to come. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities, and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and to drive their hydroelectric generators.
Count on it: the recreation industry, which demands water for boating and other sports, will be filing its briefs, too, as will environmental groups struggling to prevent endangered species and whole ecosystems from blinking out. The people of the West will not only watch them; they — or rather, we — will all in one way or another be among them as they gather before various courts in the legal equivalent of circular firing squads.
Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?
Here at the bottom of Grand Canyon, with the river rushing by, we listen for the boom of the downstream rapids toward which we are headed. Sometimes they sound like a far-off naval bombardment, sometimes more like the roar of an oncoming freight train, which is entirely appropriate. After all, the river, like a railroad, is a delivery system with a valuable cargo. Think of it as a stream of liquid property, every pint within it already spoken for, every drop owned by someone and obligated somewhere, according to a labyrinth of potentially conflicting contracts.
The owners of those contracts know now that the river can’t supply enough gallons, pints, and drops to satisfy everybody, and so they are bound to live the truth of the old western saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, and water’s for fightin’.”
In the end, Powell was right about at least one thing: aridity bats last.
- Poll shows New Mexicans oppose a Gila River Diversion project
SILVER CITY >> A recent poll by an independent research firm shows that many New Mexicans oppose a Gila River diversion project. The poll, conducted in late June of this year by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican political and public affairs research firm, was commissioned by Protect the Flows, an organization that opposes such projects. Five hundred voters statewide were contacted, with an extra concentration on the five southwest counties nearest the Gila River – Grant, Luna, Hidalgo, Sierra and Dona Ana Counties.
The poll is released at a time when the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) is considering whether to use federal funding under the Arizona Water Settlements Act to divert 14,000 acre feet of water from the Gila River – or to pursue non-diversion conservation alternatives. The funds can only be used only in southwestern New Mexico and the water must be consumed in New Mexico and cannot be leased or marketed outside of New Mexico. Many projects have been proposed across southwestern New Mexico since 2001. The Gila River diversion project is estimated to cost $300 million dollars. The ISC will make their final recommendations to the Bureau of Reclamation no later than December 2014.
At their March 11 meeting, the Grant County Commission passed a resolution in conditional support of Sen. John Arthur Smith’s, D-Deming, proposal to use the funding to construct a pipe to carry water from the Gila River in Grant County to Deming and likely onward from there. The resolution caused an uproar in the crowd, as many voiced their opposition to such a project.
The resolution said the commission would support the project if and only if it was first amended to include several planned water projects in Grant County. Conditions included “diverting, retaining, conveying and recharging the aquifer within the borders of Grant County with waters available through the Arizona Water Settlement Act,” the long-planned regional water project by the Grant County Water Commission, and a permanent irrigation solution for the Gila Valley. The resolution said that only with the inclusion of these projects would Smith’s proposed Southwest New Mexico Regional Water Supply Project gain the support of the Grant County Commissioners.
Much of the public outcry came from the fact that at the time of their resolution, neither the commissioners nor County Manager John Saari had even seen the amended proposal.
Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten has since said the commission had no choice but to support the measure the way they did. Kasten said he doesn’t believe the pipeline will ever happen but that if the commission didn’t get the local projects into the plan, Grant County would never see any of the available money for water projects; it would all go to the pipeline or other areas.
A majority of those polled said they oppose the idea of a Gila River diversion project and see it as “pricey band-aid” that will not offer a long term solution to solve water problems in the state.
Pollster Lori Weigel said that those polled viewed the project as a “temporary fix” – even though it would be a permanent structure because they believe we will continue to have droughts in the future, and lower snow pack, and we can only rely on rivers for so long, and we need to be doing more to reduce demand rather than seeking out new supplies –
“A purely infrastructure project that didn’t have some sort of efficiency aspect to it is not something they consider a long-term solution,” she said.
According to those polled, 85 percent favor using our current water supply more wisely by continuing to conserve water, and using new technology to help reduce wasted water, and increasing water recycling. Examples of preferred more cost-effective measures include: increasing conservation at home by using drought resistant plants, replacing outdated water infrastructure to reduce leaks and, water-saving irrigation incentives for farmers and ranchers.
Weigel said there is more opposition to the proposal in rural areas, and in the Southwest part of the state, and the more people hear about the details of a Gila River diversion project, the more they oppose it.
When initially asked, just under half of those polled indicate support for “the state of New Mexico helping to fund the construction of a pipeline to divert water from the Gila River in western New Mexico over the Continental Divide to cities and farms in southwestern New Mexico.” But support drops to 36 percent after those polled heard a brief explanation of why diversion is being considered and what it would entail – and fewer than one-in-three say are willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund construction of a pipeline to divert water from the Gila River.
Weigel said other polls looking at other pipeline proposals like one on the Green River that would divert water to Denver, had similar results.
“In Wyoming, when a survey was conducted in 2011, we saw a similar dynamic – that people preferred alternatives to diversion,” she said. “In Colorado, we asked about broad diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range, and even those on the Front Range opposed it, but Denver Metro is rather unique, due to a creative campaign by Denver water to really emphasize conservation,” she said.
The poll is said to have a 4.38 percent margin of error.
A few Silver City area residents responded to a question of whether they support or oppose the project on the Sun-News Facebook page on Thursday. Most said they oppose such a proposal.
“Oppose it,” said Jeramiah Johnson. “Many endangered species exist along the Gila and a massive diversion project would be one more step in eliminating these species. My son and I have seen numerous forms of wildlife along the Gila and it’s one of the few places he can experience such diversity free (somewhat) from human interaction. Let the water flow.”
Anthony Teran also said he opposes it.
“One of a kind wildlife habitat for some species,” he said. “The river barely has enough water anyways.”
Sonnie Sussillo said she also strongly opposes such a plan.
“In addition to the environmental reasons with which I agree, the critical issues for everyone who pays taxes to the state and the county are that the money to fund the building and maintenance of any diversion project will come out of our pockets as taxes eventually. The federal money allocated for a diversion project is $128 million, but estimates to build the principal diversion proposals (pipeline to Deming) are upwards of $300 million just to build. There’s no federal money to maintain, so that will come out of our pockets. And if we divert water from the Gila so that the water-rights commitment to Arizona isn’t met, that will cost us another approximately $2 million a year. This doesn’t count the loss of income from tourists who now come for the environmental/recreational benefits. And finally, where will the water go when it gets to Deming under the current proposal? INTO THE GROUND. There is federal money available, $66 million, I think, for non-diversion projects, which will be of more direct benefit to our communities of Silver, Bayard, and Hurley in meeting immediate water needs. I urge everyone to do the math and look beyond the politics of grabbing federal money and the lack of factual and truthful answers from the IWS and our own county commissioners.”
Only Sam Pitts said he was for the project.
“I need a job,” he wrote. “I’m all for the project.”
Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802.
- Drought Along the Rio Grande Highlights Water Management Complexities
[From: Arizona Water Resource – Summer 2013] On Saturday, June 1, 2013, water was released from Elephant Butte Reservoir in South Central New Mexico into the Rio Grande. It took more than two days to travel the 80 miles to fields near Las Cruces, as water soaked into the parched riverbed. Waiting for the flow were chile, pecan, cotton and alfalfa growers in Southern New Mexico, Western Texas and Mexico, as well as the city of El Paso, Texas, which depends on the Rio Grande for half its water supply.
The Rio Grande is the fifth largest river in the United States, flowing roughly 1,900 miles from the Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. In its journey, the Rio Grande serves as an 800-mile natural boundary between the United States and Mexico, and supplies thousands of acres of irrigated farmland, some Native American Pueblos, and cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso. The river is also the lifeline for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.
This year threatens to be one of the driest in the 100-year record of river flow. When water was released from Elephant Butte in early June, the reservoir was at six percent of its storage capacity. Drought conditions have afflicted the entire Rio Grande basin since 2002. But the past three years have been particularly dismal, with two consecutive winters of reduced storm activity and snowfall in Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Snowmelt from the higher elevations is the major source of water for this river, but during the winter of 2012-13, precipitation was only 45 percent of average. The cumulative effect of years of below average snowpack and prolonged drought have left Rio Grande reservoirs at less than 25 percent of their storage capacity. These conditions have gradually shortened the irrigation season, reduced water allotments for farmers, and pushed municipal water authorities to find alternative water sources and encourage additional conservation measures.
Drought brings the complexities of water management in the Southwest into high relief. Balancing the needs of irrigators from different jurisdictions with the necessities of urban residents and the environment is an ongoing challenge. In New Mexico, the Rio Grande is controlled by a series of dams and diversion structures. Flows are highly variable, so the system relies on reservoirs that store water for release to irrigators and other users. The reservoirs are managed in order to ensure delivery to Texas at Elephant Butte according to the terms of the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
In the Middle Rio Grande area, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) provides irrigation water to 70,000 acres, including 8,800 acres of Pueblo Indian lands. The District extends along the river from the Cochiti Dam in Sandoval County south through Bernalillo, Valencia and Socorro counties to the Elephant Butte Reservoir, a stretch that includes the City of Albuquerque and habitat for federally protected endangered species. With record-breaking low stream flows and reservoir storage, the irrigation season that normally stretched from March to October is expected to last no longer than 50 days this year. El Vado Reservoir, which supplies water for the District, was at 22 percent of capacity in May and the stored water was expected to be gone by the first week of July. Once the reservoir is empty, the District has to rely on the river’s natural flow—a dire prospect since river flow has plummeted with the prolonged drought. The average June flow in the Albuquerque stretch of the river is roughly 2,500 cubic feet per second, but by the end of May this year the flow was only 350 cfs.
The six Pueblos in the Middle Rio Grande area have federally recognized rights to river water for irrigation, domestic and ranching purposes, and have contracts with the MRGCD for water deliveries. While some of their rights share the same priority with other District contract holders, a portion of their rights are “prior and paramount” owing to the Pueblos’ ancestral settlement in the area. This means that in times of shortage they are entitled to receive some water when others may have to do without.
In Albuquerque, a “drought watch” is in effect, meaning that fines are doubled for allowing water to flow into the street or onto neighboring property and for using sprinklers between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is encouraging its customers to achieve even greater conservation than they have in previous years. The Authority is also helping to keep the river flowing by leasing 40,000 acre-feet of its San Juan-Chama project allotment to the Bureau of Reclamation, which needs the additional water for the Rio Grande silvery minnow. The San Juan-Chama project imports water from the Colorado River system.
The minute silvery minnow is a recurrent figure in conversations among water managers and farmers. The fish was classified as an endangered species in 1994, as it is found only in the Middle Rio Grande and now occupies less than five percent of its natural habitat. To preserve its remaining habitat and allow for its survival, the Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 requires Reclamation—which operates the dams—to keep the Rio Grande flowing continuously to Isleta Diversion Dam. Below Isleta to Elephant Butte, flow maintenance is conditional; in a dry year, the river is allowed to dry in a controlled manner after June 15. This year, even with the addition of 40,000 acre-feet of imported water, there was not enough water in the river to meet requirements. Given the recurrent drought conditions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a contingency plan to reduce water flows beginning the first week of June in an effort to stretch dwindling water supplies for the endangered minnow. The plan falls short of water flow mandates in the 2003 Biological Opinion but was considered the only viable option given the extenuating circumstances.
Downstream, irrigators in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 (EPCWID) face equally daunting challenges: This season they will receive only 145,000 acre-feet of water, which is about 20 percent of their water allotment in average years. While a full allotment is 36 inches of water per acre, this year farmers can expect to receive 3.5 inches of water per acre. To maintain their production farmers in Southern New Mexico and West Texas are turning to groundwater.
Groundwater pumping is an expensive option, however, inaccessible to many small farmers. Dependence on groundwater pumping could also have damaging consequences. The river and the aquifer are connected, so without a flowing river, the aquifers that feed the wells lack recharge and increased groundwater extraction progressively draws down water levels. In addition, as wells draw from deeper levels, salinity increases and farms’ yields decrease. For these reasons, groundwater pumping is not a long-term sustainable solution to continuing drought.
Much like farmers, urban water utilities are supplementing surface water allotments by pumping groundwater. El Paso Water Utilities, which typically relies on river water for half of its water supply, is increasing supplies with new and renovated wells and increased production at its desalination plant. Although the city has avoided mandatory water restrictions, it exhorts customers to adopt its water saving recommendations.
In recent years tensions between competing water users over water rights have come to a boiling point as the drought diminishes supplies. Texas is now suing New Mexico for not delivering what it considers it is owed under the Rio Grande Compact. Signed in 1939, the Compact divides the Rio Grande waters among the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. By the terms of the compact, Colorado and New Mexico must deliver specified amounts of water to Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs for use in Southern New Mexico and West Texas. The current legal dispute between Texas and New Mexico erupted when irrigation releases to southern New Mexico were curtailed, driving irrigators to pump more groundwater. Texas alleges that unsupervised groundwater pumping by New Mexico farmers below Elephant Butte is reducing the amount of Rio Grande water reaching Texas farmers, thereby depriving the state’s agricultural lands and cities of water to which they are legally entitled.
Texas has also asserted that Mexico is not living up to the terms of the 1944 treaty that allocates water between the United States and Mexico. By the terms of the treaty, Mexico is obliged to provide Texas a specified amount of water over a five-year period from its reservoirs along the Lower Rio Grande. These reservoirs store water from Mexican streams that feed the Lower Rio Grande where it forms the border with Texas. Water users in Texas are pressing their claim through ongoing discussions involving the U.S. State Department and the Mexican government.
The current dry spell in the Rio Grande Basin is not unprecedented and will not be the last of its kind. Climate projections described in a Bureau of Reclamation Report to Congress suggest that temperatures throughout the basin could increase by 5–6 degrees, while annual precipitation will remain variable with a decrease of 2.3-2.5 percent by 2050. This would cause a decrease in the river’s average annual runoff by 7.3–14.4 percent. In practice, these numbers mean that the 21st century will present water managers and water users along the Rio Grande with a suite of even greater challenges than they now face.
- NM Among States to Receive NSF Funding for Water Resources Modeling
New Mexico, Nevada and Idaho have received a new grant from the National Science Foundation to create a Western Consortium for Watershed Analysis, Visualization and Exploration (WC-WAVE) to advance watershed science, workforce development and education with cyber infrastructure enabled discovery and innovation.
The virtual watershed framework will be tested with data from three well-instrumented watersheds, one in each state. In New Mexico, data will be collected from the Jemez Watershed in the Valles Caldera. Image courtesy Natalie Willoughby
The consortium will receive up to $6 million over a three year period in Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 awards. The awards are part of NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
The WC-WAVE grant will enable researchers to create better models to understand the water resource processes at high elevations that bring water to communities. These systems are affected by climate change, which impacts the water storage, flow moderation and water quality. Interactions among precipitation, vegetation growth, fire, soil moisture, runoff and other landscape properties create systems in which even subtle changes in climate may lead to significant environmental and economic impacts.
Principal Investigators on the grant are Gayle Dana, Nevada System of Higher Education; Peter Goodwin, University of Idaho and William Michener, University of New Mexico. The grant was one of four projects nationally to receive funding to inform policy making and address strategic regional issues.
“This NSF funded project will lead to new understanding of the interactions of climate, water, and humans that will be key to growing the state’s economy amidst the environmental challenges facing New Mexico such as drought and fire,” said Michener. “The project is especially exciting in that young and productive scientists, students and educators from throughout New Mexico, Idaho and Nevada will work collaboratively to address the most pressing challenges that are common to the southwestern United States.”
EPSCoR promotes scientific progress nationwide by effecting lasting improvements in a state’s research infrastructure and research and development capacity to improve its academic competitiveness. New Mexico EPSCoR is working to improve the research, cyberinfrastructure, and human resources required for New Mexico to achieve its energy, education and workforce development potential.
- NM Supreme Court's Decision in Bounds v. State of NM
New Mexico residents remain free to drill domestic wells to meet household water needs, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. But the state has an obligation to ensure that once wells are drilled, the resulting groundwater pumping doesn’t cut into the water rights of neighbors, the court found. The ruling creates the possibility that for the first time New Mexico could be forced to curtail pumping from domestic wells if the well reduces water supplies to neighbors with senior water rights.
See the full article by John Fleck in the July 26, 2013 Albuquerque Journal here.
A link to the unanimous decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court is here.
- Board meeting minutes 9-12-2019 attachment – 2020 ASM outline
- Board meeting minutes – September 12, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – August 15, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – July 18, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – June 13, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – May 16, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – April 11, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – March 14, 2019
- Board meeting minutes – October 11, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – September 13, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – August 10, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – July 12, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – June 14, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – May 10, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – April 12, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – March 8, 2018
- Board meeting minutes – October 2017
- Board meeting minutes – September 18, 2017
- Board meeting minutes – August 10, 2017
- Board meeting minutes – July 13, 2017 [corrected]
- Board meeting minutes – May 18, 2017 [corrected]
- Board meeting minutes – April 13, 2017 [CORRECTED]
- Board meeting minutes – December 5, 2016 [CORRECTED]
- Board meeting minutes – November 10, 2016 [corrected]
- Board meeting minutes – October 13, 2016
- Board meeting minutes – September 8, 2016
- Board meeting minutes – August 11, 2016
- Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates
The Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly is a grass roots all-volunteer organization that focuses on water-related issues for Valencia, Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties in New Mexico.
The link address is: http://www.waterassembly.org/
- Regional Water Plans
Regional Water Plans accepted by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission are published on the OSE/ISC Website. Some regional water planing organizations have their own sites, and will be listed as we learn about them.
The link address is: http://www.ose.state.nm.us/isc_regional_planning.html
- Dialogue – Spring 2019
- Dialogue – Fall 2018
- Dialogue – Spring 2018
- Dialogue – Fall 2017
- Dialogue – Spring 2017
- ASM22 Full Report
- Dialogue – Fall 2016
- Dialogue – Spring 2016
- Dialogue – Fall 2015
- Dialogue – Spring 2015
- Dialogue – Fall 2014
- Dialogue – Spring 2014
Summary Report on 20th Annual Statewide Meeting “Implementing Change: Where’s the Political Will?” Tribute to Frank Titus; Update from the President; What we know—and don’t know—about the ISC’s Regional Water Planning “Update” process; Water Resource Planning and Reality; Key Court Victory In the Fight to Protect the Great Basin from the Unsustainable Export of Groundwater…; Statewide water town hall produces wide-ranging platform of policy reform
- Dialogue Fall 2013
Responding to Drought: It Takes a Community; Healing the Jemez (reprint from 2006); NM Supreme Court Decides Domestic Well Challenge; State and Regional Water Planning Update; Sharing Shortages on the San Juan River; Rio Chama Farmers Survive 2013 Drought Thanks to Voluntary Agreement
- Dialogue Spring 2013
- Dialogue Fall 2012
- Dialogue Spring 2012
- Dialogue Fall 2011
- Dialogue Spring 2011
Economic Stress: Hard Times for Water Planning and Management, Lead Article: Annual Meeting Summary, Update from the President, Protests Drown Out Attempted Water Grab, Berrendo Application Dismissed by State Engineer, 2011 Legislative Summart, Not Funded: NM’s Cost Share of the Aamodt, Taos, and Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlements
- Dialogue Fall 2010
Lead Article. Regional Water Planners Meet: One size does not fit all, Update from the President, Update on Implementation and Revision of the Taos RWP, “Story” Portrays Bleak Water Future for MRG Unless Policies Change, Gila River Proposals Reviewed by Interstate Stream Commission, This Just In: Water News, Taos County Public Welfare Ordinance, NM Court of Appeals Decisions on Domestic Well Statute and AWRM, Annual Statewide Meeting: Announcement, Registration Form, and Preliminary Agenda
- Dialogue Summer 2010
Planning for the Future: 2010 Statewide Meeting summary, Regional Planning Symposium Planned for September – announcement, Update from the New President, Letter to OSE/ISC on State Water Plan Update, San Juan Basin RWP Update, Jemez y Sangre completes Phase II of RWP Update, Utton Center Holds E-Flows Workshop, E-Flows Memorial Flows through the HENRC Gate
- Dialogue Fall 2009
Announcement of the 2010 Annual Statewide Meeting – State Water Planning: A Path Forward?, State Water Plan Update Report, Brent Bullock – In Memoriam, Municipal Water Use Isn’t Necessarily Conservation, MRGCD Moves Toward More Real Water Accounting, Gila River Update: AZ Water Settlement Act Planning Process, Amendments Proposed to New Mexico’s Water Quality Standards
- Dialogue Summer 2009
- Dialogue Fall 2008
Announcement of the 15th Annual Statewide Meeting – Bringing Accountability to Water Planning: Does it Take a Crisis?, Report on Finalization of the Taos Regional Water Plan, Bringing Accountability to Water Planning, “Water Management: An Evolving Concept”, “Status of Efforts to Link State and Regional Water Planning Programs” , Jemez y Sangre Begins Plan Update, Valencia County Water and Wastewater Master Plan, New Mexico’s Projected Population Dynamics
- Dialogue Summer 2008
Keynote Speakers Counsel Nurturing Natural Systems – summaries of talks by Courtney White and V.B. Price at the 14th Annual Meeting, Supply and Demand in the Salt and Tularosa Basins, “Start with the End in Mind”, Judge Rules Domestic Well Statute Unconstitutional / State Engineer Appeals, State Engineer must look at extinguishing water rights, Lucy Moore Receives Annual Award
- Dialogue Fall 2007
Water Planners Look Ahead to “Next Iteration” (2007 Annual Meeting), Updates from…., Water for Navajos at Last, Gila River Update, Northeast NM Regional Water Plan, Water Conservation Incentives Project, Upstream-Downstream Project, 14th Annual Statewide Meeting: Draft Agenda, Early Registration Form
- Dialogue December 2006
Markets and Communinty (Dedicated to the Memory of Chris Nunn Garcia), “The Upstream-Downstream Project: Prospects for Trust and Cooperation among Regions Sharing a Common Source of Water”, “Marketing Water in New Mexico – Whose Business?”, “Remembering Chris”, “Save Water for What? Considering Public Welfare in Designing Conservation Incentives” (report from the Water Conservation Incentives Project Steering Committee)
- Dialogue Winter 2005-2006
“Can settlement negotiations make adjudication a community-based process?” (Commentary on Beth Richards’ article), “Growth and Competition for Land and Water (Note: To download the image referred to in this article click on the link in related content below. Warning: this Landsat photo of the Middle Rio Grande makes an extremely large JPG file (6.27 mb). It will take a long time to load, and has been known to cause some computers to crash!) “, A Conversation about the Future of Water Leasing in New Mexico
- Dialogue Summer 2005
- Dialogue July 2004
- Dialogue January 2004
- Dialogue Summer 2003
- Dialogue Winter 2003