Part I – Good Work Is Converging
Together, New Mexicans made significant strides in addressing the multifaceted challenges of water management and conservation in New Mexico in 2023.
Multiple related accomplishments represent badly needed steps toward improved water governance for resilience and sustainability across New Mexico and in the Middle Rio Grande. This essay ties together highlights of the progress New Mexicans achieved together in 2023.
Work in 2022 set the stage for 2023. The science volume of the Governor’s 50-Year Water Plan, published in 2022, showed us why we must act. It makes the case for change. Bulletin 164 — Climate Change in New Mexico Over the Next 50 Years: Impacts on Water Resources.
The New Mexico 2022 Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force Report offers a set of recommendations and strategies that is itself a remarkable consensus of diverse experts and citizens from across our state. The report, publicly released in early 2023, lists 106 specific strategies to implement 17 recommendations to face the growing water crises caused by unsustainable depletions of water resources and increasing water supply scarcity across our state. The Task Force consensus, led by State Engineer Mike Hamman as chairman, recognized that addressing these crises and stopping the ruinous overuse is key to the future of our state, nature and our natural heritage, our cultures, our economic security, and local food security.
The 2023 Legislature
2023 was the first year in my memory of the New Mexico Legislature turning its gaze to proactive governance of New Mexico’s sparse water resources. This is a badly needed change from New Mexico’s historical neglect of water governance and continued emphasis on developing water for economic growth of any kind.
The Legislature passed the landmark 2023 Water Security Planning Act without a single no vote along the way. This accomplishment satisfies one of the Water Task Force’s 106 strategies and will serve as a hub for collective action to accomplish many others. Urgently needed but woefully inadequate funding for state water management agencies was approved, along with another law to aid small water and wastewater utilities within a region to join forces to realize greater economies of scale and make better use of scarce qualified personnel. These, too, were Water Task Force implementing strategies.
Notable 2023 water governance progress was made by many diverse actors motivated by knowing the gravity of New Mexico’s water overuse and declining water supplies. The Water Advocates and many others know we must act, feel the urgency, are taking action, and invite you to engage in this collective action in 2024.
The Roles of the Sovereign and its Citizens
Water conservation, like we have never known it, is required to stop current unsustainable uses and then further reduce our uses because our water supplies are shrinking, evaporating away before they become usable. One way or another, many uses will stop soon. If we wake up, as our future requires to survive the growing aridity long-term, we will stop pumping groundwater to exhaustion as if it were a mineral deposit to be depleted or mined for short term private profit and no regard for the post-depletion future. At the same time, rivers must not be turned into arroyos without habitat, or worse, such as the canalization of the Rio Grande downstream of Caballo Reservoir.
The State of New Mexico as water sovereign holds the legal and moral stewardship responsibilities over our water for the public health, safety, and welfare of all New Mexicans. Early in the last century, New Mexico’s future was all about water development. That era should have ended long ago but in reality, continues today. The Governor’s current proposal to allocate $500,000,000 to clean up brackish water and oil field wastewater for use at the same time the basics of water governance go without funding illustrates this mid-20th mindset has powerful adherents.
The State has not mustered the political will required to support and implement water governance improvements to survive our more arid future. Existing law provides tools to take collective action, but the state has not implemented those tools, despite the best efforts of many dedicated and well-qualified staff. The State has failed its citizens and its water management staff by not providing the modern resources needed to make the State responsive to the crises and to support its staff. Only a bipartisan effort that survives governors can create the livable future for New Mexico that growing New Mexico voices are demanding.
Current Water Agency Leadership
New Mexico State Engineer Mike Hamman’s has led remarkable progress during his two-year tenure, repeatedly demonstrating his outstanding leadership skills. He, Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, and the deep agency expertise that prevailed in asserting New Mexico’s counterclaims, created the interstate settlement in the current and still ongoing US Supreme Court litigation brought by Texas and joined by the United States against New Mexico in the Lower Rio Grande. Mr. Schmidt-Petersen retired as ISC director early in 2023.
His successor as New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director is Hannah Riseley-White, the best person I know to take on that heavy workload. She is qualified by a uniquely applicable graduate degree in science and public policy, and is seasoned by her skilled leadership of the ISC’s Pecos River Bureau, her recent tenure as Deputy ISC Director, and her leadership of the 2022 Water Task Force work.
Their leadership and credibility were essential to 2023 successes and will be instrumental on building on those successes to accelerate progress starting at the 2024 Legislature. We are grateful for their personal participation in the 2023 Water Advocates speakers series and workshops.
Their leadership has been and will remain essential in transforming our water agencies to do the essential jobs that New Mexico has neglected by that only the State has the power to do. That includes continuing to recruit excellent new personnel to do those jobs that only these essential agencies can do.
Water Advocates General Contributions in 2023
The Water Advocates work in 2023 was guided and shaped by our Theory of Change that former consultant and current executive council member Gillian Gonda led us to develop in 2022. It is described on our website here.
We bring transformative change to water resources governance by:
- convening or participating in problem-solving, multi-stakeholder discussions and structured processes,
- civic engagement with the legislature, state agencies and local governments to identify problems and recommend solutions,
- creating broader public awareness and knowledge of water-related facts, problems, and solutions,
- creating and building momentum for transformative change through our actions and civic participation with others,
- incorporating facts, fairness, equity, stewardship, inclusion, and the urgency of our water crisis in everything we do.
The Water Advocates made intentional contributions to positive change in 2023. I was appointed to serve on the Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force and worked with other Water Advocates and NM Water Ambassadors to draft the bill that became the 2023 Water Security Planning Act. The Water Advocates began thinking about implementing the 2023 Act in the Middle Rio Grande immediately after it passed. We are leading a growing initiative in the Middle Rio Grande to do so, in parallel and in cooperation with the Interstate Stream Commission as the ISC’s leaders and dedicated water planning staff of three work to create and finalize the statewide rules and guidelines over the next fifteen months.
To reflect the Water Advocates core interests in statewide water policy and in a sustainable water future for the Middle Rio Grande, we changed our name in 2023 to Water Advocates for New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande. Now our name is true to our interests and our mission.
Water Advocates 2023 Progress Highlights
This year-end summary touches on the breadth of Water Advocates’ activities and progress, drawing upon published blog posts and the impactful speakers series and workshops conducted last year.
1. Outreach and Public Engagement: Water Advocates’ work in 2023 demonstrated our commitment to public engagement and education. Through various outreach programs, publications, and collaborative events, our volunteers have worked tirelessly to bring water issues to the forefront of public discourse. Our efforts have raised awareness and fostered a sense of shared responsibility among the growing audience we are reaching. Special thanks to Executive Council member Brittany Gaume and part-time digital media coordinator Kelly Ore for all their work on social media, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook today!
2. Advocacy for Passage and Implementation of the 2023 Water Security Planning Act: In the legislative arena, the Water Advocates played an instrumental role in the passage of the 2023 Water Security Planning Act. This Act signifies a major step forward in establishing regional water security planning councils throughout New Mexico. The Advocates’ efforts underscored the need for legislative support and adequate funding to provide for the Act’s successful implementation and operationalization.
In the implementation arena, the Water Advocates have proposed a big-picture plan to fully implement the Water Security Planning Act within the Middle Rio Grande boundaries. The plan begins with concentrated, organized grassroots efforts in 2024. The Middle Rio Grande will rely on non-state funding in the absence of adequate 2023 Legislative appropriations to begin implementation of this remarkable legislation at the regional level, particularly in regions where curtailing overuse is urgent and self-organization is beginning.
In the absence of 2023 Legislature funding through the ISC for regions to begin to do their parts to implement the 2023 Act, the Water Advocates found but have not yet secured funding from Bernalillo County, potentially supplemented by philanthropy and other primary funders, to convene an intentional, collaborative process involving all stakeholder interests leading toward official formation of a fully representative Middle Rio Grande regional water planning entity. Stay tuned for substantial progress in 2024.
3. Addressing Water Scarcity and Conservation: Water Advocates contributions in 2023 highlighted the acute issues of water scarcity in the Rio Grande and across New Mexico and the Water Task Force recommendations for action. The advocacy focus was not just about raising awareness but also about galvanizing action across communities and sectors. We consistently emphasized the urgency of water conservation and sustainable practices to growing audiences. Our messages are clear: conserving water resources for younger and future generations is our collective responsibility. We have much that we must do in a short period of time if we are to secure a resilient water future.
4. Water Data Dashboard Initiative: The University of New Mexico engineering faculty, in cooperation with the Water Advocates, began development of a Middle Rio Grande Water Data Dashboard prototype in 2023. The NM Water Data Initiative, involving concentrated work by five state agencies pursuant to the 2019 Water Data Act, is providing a home and additional professional resources for this grassroots project as the Water Data Initiative’s first “Use Case.” The fully transparent dashboard, once launched, promises to offer a comprehensive and interactive visualization of Middle Rio Grande water data – where our water comes from and where it goes. It’s poised to be a game-changer in facilitating informed decision-making and enhancing transparency in water management, thus bridging gaps between data and policy implementation. Read more about the history and potential of this project.
3. Community-Driven Solutions for Water Challenges: New Mexico’s water challenges are community problems that require emphasis in reaching community-driven solutions. This key point is a major theme of the Water Advocates’ strategy. The Water Advocates outreach highlighted the necessity of engaging diverse stakeholders to develop inclusive water governance solutions through collaboration and agreement, a New Mexico water management tradition. This collaborative approach is crucial for crafting viable solutions to New Mexico’s urgent water challenges. See what Water Advocates Board Member Laurie McCann has to say about collective action in her recent blog posts at nmwateradvocates.org.
5. Engaging Educational Workshops and Speaker Series: Throughout 2023, the Water Advocates organized and produced seven public speakers and interactive workshops addressing critical water issues. These events have been consistently well attended. The speakers and workshops covered a variety of topics, all related to the implementation of the Water Security Planning Act. These workshops served as a platform for knowledge exchange and community engagement and engaged over 500 individuals. Recordings of the workshops and speaker materials are available on our website.
6. Future Vision for Water Management: Looking ahead, the Water Advocates envision a balanced and equitable water future for New Mexico. This vision is anchored in the belief that the state can adapt to climate change and effectively be a fair steward of its water resources. The recognition of the 2023 Legislature’s approval of the Water Security Planning Act marks a watershed moment in this journey, setting the stage for accelerated and successful adaptation to a future with less water.
7. The Third Sector. Elsewhere in the world, first-world societies recognize the Civic Sector, or Non-Profit Sector, as bringing essential concepts and balance to the Government, or Public Sector, and the Business, or Private Sector. The Water Advocates in 2023 sought to organize with other New Mexico not-for-profit organizations to pursue water governance progress together, in collaboration and coordination. It’s working. The League of Women Voters, New Mexico Wild, 350NM, and NM Interfaith Power and Light sponsored our 2023 workshops. Other non-profits are represented on the Water Advocates Board or have expressed their interest in joining forces to do our parts, now and in the future.
In collaboration with the Ogallala Land and Water Conservancy, a non-profit that is the only organized New Mexico voice for water required for the economic future of eastern New Mexico communities for whom the Ogallala Aquifer is the sole source of water supply, the Water Advocates have proposed six line-item appropriations that are essential to New Mexico’s water future.
Several of these amplify water management agency and water science agency requests for fundamental building blocks, including agency staffing, Water Data Act implementation acceleration, and acceleration of the Aquifer Mapping Program. Others, including state funding for ISC grants to appropriately support water planning regions self-organization, were not requested by the agencies, or are not expected to be included in the Governor’s forthcoming proposed budget. Please review the list here and call YOUR legislator to support this funding.
8. Water Advocates finances. We have not emphasized donations, but fundraising is key to our future. Nonetheless, we have recently received several generous unsolicited donations, including from our Board members, and many modest ones.
Previously, the Water Advocates existed on previously saved funds from long ago and spent almost nothing. We decided to begin our current work by expending those funds. We sought and received a grant from the Thornburg Foundation that was completely expended in 2023 to deliver workshops about the ingredients of collaborative success to Basin Study participants.
With a higher profile, we increased the number of our active volunteers and began to receive new donations. We have our first annual budget for the current fiscal year since I have been involved starting about seven years ago. Our budget currently depends completely on donations as we secure other income to help meet our growing but modest annual expenses and fund our priority initiatives.
We are very grateful for the many generous donations we have received to pay for our operating expenses this year. Thank you for considering the Water Advocates and our vital work to push for public recognition of our water problems and collaboration to address them, thereby contributing to New Mexico’s future in your giving. We appreciate you making a donation today!
In conclusion, the Water Advocates’ approach in 2023 has been a blend of advocacy, education, and collaboration supported by modern information technology. Our work this year has pushed for a solid foundation for sustainable water management and conservation in New Mexico. We have demonstrated a strong commitment to a resilient and balanced water future for New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande. As we move forward, the lessons learned, and successes achieved in 2023 will inform and inspire our efforts to create a secure water future for New Mexico that doesn’t now exist.
Stay tuned for Part 2 as I look ahead to “Co-Creation of a Sustainable Water Future for the Middle Rio Grande” in the Water Advocates January News – Coming January 4, 2024.
Updated 10:30 am, Dec 30, 2023