My first day of November began with a reflective walk along the Rio Grande. From one day to the next, the river had transformed from a trickle to a surge. At the river’s edge, Water Authority crews were readying to channel this flow through the treatment plant to the community.
Yet, this scene begs the question: why this sudden abundance? The answer lies in our complex relationship with the Rio Grande. This sudden shift signals more than seasonal change—it’s a consequence of a “water debt” accrued over the last decade from unsustainable water usage. As we confront the consequences of global warming and increasingly arid conditions, our management strategies must evolve to ensure the rivers, and our, vitality.
Over the last decade of unprecedented water scarcity, we continued water depletions that will be impossible to sustain in our more arid future. The result is an accrued “water debt” — an overdraft of the Middle Rio Grande’s share of our great river’s flows. Regulations prevent us from storing water in the spring for release in the hot dry summer when we’re in such debt, creating a cyclical scarcity. With record hot and dry weather that abruptly set in while the runoff was still occurring and the failure of the monsoon, the abundance of this spring became the almost dry river of August, September, and October. Federal laws also require snowmelt runoff flood water that belongs to the Lower Rio Grande but is stored upstream of the middle valley in Federal flood control reservoirs to prevent flooding, remain in storage until November. A large amount of flood water was stored upstream over the summer. It started coming down on November 1. The river will be full through the end of December.
As we’ve enjoyed a respite from the heat this fall, we must not forget the lessons from this summer’s extreme temperatures. I recommend reviewing the National Weather Service’s comprehensive story map on New Mexico’s hot summer and failed monsoon.
Do we collectively understand that current water uses can’t be sustained, that we are diverting our Great River to extinction, and choking it with sediment? I believe enough of us do. Did this summer motivate us to pay closer attention? I sense that it did. Are we ready to work together to understand the facts of our shared water supply and to take action to govern our water for sustainable resilience? A critical mass is ready, and we can bring others along. Who must be involved? Representatives of literally all stakeholder interests. What will it take? We must decide that together, and prioritize our recommendations, but we must self-organize first, in 2023. That is our path forward.
Good News for Middle Rio Grande Water Security Planning
October ended with a Bernalillo County appropriation of $200,000 for expenditure before July to initiate regional water resilience planning in the Middle Rio Grande in accordance with the new state law. Although the 2023 Legislature unanimously passed the landmark regional Water Security Planning Act, it didn’t approve sufficient funds or state agency staff capacity to promptly implement the law. We need to do our best to persuade the 2024 Legislature appropriate funds for water programs and governance, recognizing that without water security, nothing else is secure, either.
I have thought a lot about implementing the 2023 Water Security Planning Act in the Middle Rio Grande. My conclusion is that successful collaborative Middle Rio Grande water security planning could be completed in 2029, but only if we successfully begin working together and organize in 2024, so that the representative group we organize can become formally recognized in 2025 as eligible to receive state water planning funding, apply for and receive state funding, and hire planning staff and contractors, so the planning work itself can commence in 2026. Four years of diligent work later, the plan should be complete before 2030.
My conclusions: the sooner we get started, the sooner we can complete our plan and obtain state support and matching funding to implement it. County funding is sufficient to get started but we will have to stop and wait for more funding if state funding for planning regions is not approved by the 2024 Legislature.
New Mexico Legislature
To tackle these issues, we need more than just laws; we need resources. The Water Security Planning Act passed in 2023 was a landmark achievement, yet it stands without the necessary funds for robust implementation. The upcoming legislative session presents an opportunity to secure a budget that aligns with the Act’s ambitions. We must advocate for an investment in water security that recognizes that water is life and that without water, there is nothing. Do your part to persuade the Legislature to recognize the value of water and fund its careful stewardship to prevent many, many wells from running dry.
As I mentioned last month, Dr. Ladona Clayton and I are preparing joint presentation materials for the November 6-8 Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting in Santa Fe. We are members of a panel focusing on implementation of the 2023 Water Security Planning Act, along with ISC Director Hannah Riseley-White and ISC water planning program manager Andrew Erdmann. The panel is scheduled for 1:15 on Tuesday, November 7. Dr. Clayton and I are making a joint request for large, multi-year water program appropriations by the 2024 Legislature. We will explain these funding needs. Most of the funds are required to gather and prepare data for the rigorous planning that the 2023 Act requires. All the requested funding is needed for assertive implementation of the 2022 Water Task Force recommendations. None of these ideas are new. But perhaps their time has come.
New Mexico Water Dialogue 29th Annual Statewide Meeting, January 11, 2024
The New Mexico Water Dialogue 29th Annual Statewide Meeting focuses on the 2023 Water Security Planning Act. The morning will include presentations, including the Keynote by Hannah Riseley-White, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, a panel presentation touching on eight aspects of the new law, and an inspirational speaker. The afternoon is designed around a process called open space where the participants propose ideas or topics for a small group to explore and participants decide which group they will join, through a literal marketplace of ideas. The meeting flyer contains registration information.
The Water Advocates 3rd Thursday workshop topic for November will explain the funding requested from the 2024 Legislature and provide a summary and wrap up of the workshops the Water Advocates have produced this year. Learn in November, have a great year-end holidays celebration, and then help secure the resources that stewardship of our water requires from the 2024 Legislature. Water is Life! Do your Part.