Rio Grande Basin Study is Moving Forward

These are urgent matters. Without action, they will become dire.  Both require State leadership and funding.   Both are being neglected even though the issues present grave and unacceptable risks — economically, environmentally, socially, to water equity, and to the State’s treasury.

The Rio Grande Basin Study is beginning to feel more tangible. Over sixty people — including 15 from eight community organizations concerned that we must face our climate change future — attended Reclamation’s quarterly “All Partners” meeting held Dec. 4. After a presentation on in-progress climate assessment research and a planned agricultural adaptation workshop, discussions focused on the detailed draft three-year plan to conduct the study.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study will evaluate changes we can make to adapt to less water caused by climate disruption and rising temperatures. Participants will identify and assess actions that if implemented would help people who depend on the Rio Grande in New Mexico for their water supply adapt and increase their resilience to significantly reduced surface water.

New Mexico’s Annual Average Temperature has Increased 3 Degrees Farenheit since 1970. Source: New Mexico Tech, Earth Matters, Summer 2020 Edition

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Dec 4 presentations were responsive to Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates conceptual written comments. MRG Water Advocates had requested emphasis on scientific integrity, decision-making by consensus, and public communications. Reclamation committed to conducting the Basin Study with scientific integrity and defining a consensus process and consensus decision-making expectations. Reclamation is considering the Water Advocates recommendation to create an independent science and technical advisory committee. Reclamation also recognizes the need for effective communications with stakeholders. Everybody who lives in the basin is a stakeholder.

Reclamation has designated five sectors: agriculture, municipalities, tribes, national NGOs, and grass roots community organizations. Each is expected to self-organize. Each sector in 2021 will define values we need to protect, vulnerabilities and potential adaptation strategies to increase water supply resilience.

Several months ago, Reclamation accepted the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates offer to convene the community organizations sector and help participants self-organize. Seven of thirteen invited community organizations met last week. Three others participated in the “All Partners” meeting, Participating community organizations span the basin from Taos to Santa Fe to Albuquerque to Socorro and focus on riparian and riverine habitat, environment, faith, civics, acequias, equity, and water governance.

Reclamation will revise the first draft plan of study soon for review and comment by study partners. Partners are organizations that have signed the Basin Study Memorandum of Agreement. Once the plan of study is finished, Reclamation will officially begin this climate change adaptation study, starting the three-year clock.

The MRG Water Advocates appreciate Reclamation’s funding and initiation of this hard but essential water planning work. The Basin Study is a great way to begin focused water planning that we know is required to adapt to water scarcity caused by our changing climate. We will learn about actions we must take to increase our water supply resilience.

The Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates are committed to helping the Basin Study effort be effective. We also are committed to seeking effective water governance. That will entail planning, making decisions, and implementing changes required to increase New Mexico’s water supply resilience in the various and distinct hydrologic regions of the state.

New Mexicans must adapt because we will have to do with less.