Let’s Get Real – Part 2

Second call to wake up, New Mexico!  We need to be honest with ourselves. Water troubles are coming, big time!

IMHO it’s about time that we pulled our political heads out of the sand.  We’ve pursued the state agencies’ concepts for water planning for nearly three decades. Speaking softly has not worked.  Please excuse me if I am now shouting a bit. 

We need to move water planning beyond the preparation of documents not implemented or not suitable for implementation, which simply gather dust on shelves. 

What’s wrong and what must be done to fix it? Drawn from the work of others who care about water planning, this is the second of a two-part opinion that shouts out a warning to identify the big minefields ahead, provide a recommendation of admittedly controversial remedies, and then how to effect those remedies.

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Reform Our Behavior

My previous post presented a Warning, Minefields Ahead that cited a mounting set of coming crises, and a minimum set of Remedial Components that that would help New Mexico dodge the mines.

New Mexico needs to modify its behavior so those components and other improvements can take effect.  Are New Mexico’s agencies up to the challenge of reforming water management?  The modifications require that we address Institutional ChangeRegional Planning Reform, and State Planning Reform

While other mechanisms might be possible, my belief is that the Governor’s requested 50-Year Water Plan presents us with a rare opportunity. It could well be used as the vehicle to lay out and mandate the broad array of needed reforms identified in the following paragraphs.

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Institutional Changes Needed

New Mexico’s current institutions – local planning entities, regional planning entities, state planning entities, and administrative entities – are not up to the challenge.  Significant modification is needed.  Besides needing support, the entities must be given appropriate charters and missions. The modifications require that we:

  • Improve our shared understanding of the facts and uncertainties we must address in accordance with a long-term science plan.
  • Create improved institutional arrangements for governing and managing New Mexico’s waters to serve the public interest in an era of water supply diminishment, ecological disruption and uncertainty.
  • Provide settings where conflicts may be addressed more fairly through locally negotiated agreements that take into consideration effects on all parties that share a common supply (e.g., a watershed, compact compliance domain, or aquifer as the basis for defining a region or subregion).
  • Create approaches to protect the rights of senior owners, as OSE describes its mission, while enabling meeting New Mexicans’ junior economic and human water needs and conserving water supply so that water is available for future generations, which is apparently not any agency’s mission.

As noted in NMSA 1978 § 72-14-43(A), “the future water needs of New Mexico can best be met by allowing each region of the state to plan for its water future.”   However, regions must be hydrologically bounded and need state support to accomplish that planning.  What are some regional and state level water planning goals?      

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Regional Planning Reforms

To date, regional water planning has not served to solve New Mexico’s impending water problems.  We must, perhaps through the 50-Year Water Plan, direct the state to take action that re-frames the regional water planning processes to:

  • Establish regional planning boundaries appropriate to the resolution of regional hydrologic limits.  
  • Establish that the goal of regional planning is the development of shared solution strategies that the actors and the institutions with authority both commit to implement. 
  • Establish the necessary tools and data required to ensure that all regional water plans are adequately, scientifically founded.
  • Establish and secure adequate budgets for prioritized regional water planning over a defined length of time.
  • Help create ongoing regional planning/coordinating bodies, help design their planning work so the planning efforts are productive, and provide the necessary process, financial, and technical support so that the planners can achieve their purposes.

And, of course, the 50-Year Water Plan should identify goals that direct the state agencies to take state-level actions. 

* * *

State Planning Reform

I’ve mentioned institutional changes needed and reform of regional water planning.  It is obvious that State water planning also needs improvement.  Besides helping to establish and facilitate an effective set of regional water planning institutions, the 50-Year Water Plan should include goals that address statewide issues.  At a minimum, the 50-Year Water Plan goals should include:

  • Establish recommended solutions for ongoing compact compliance in basins deemed critical.
  • Establish case-by-case desired lifetimes of mined aquifers that support population and economic centers of the state. 
  • Establish a process to get a handle on grossly unsustainable groundwater pumping.
  • Establish state policy for intrastate exports of water to different hydrologic basins.
  • Establish a mechanism to rationally vet water supply expansion opportunities and innovation.
  • Establish a program of prioritized scientific investigations to develop a robust understanding of New Mexico’s groundwater resources. 

After naming impending crises, I’ve identified and recommend components of solutions to avoid or minimize the likelihood of running out of water.  I also named a set (just above) of reforms needed to enable implementing the solution components. These high-level attributes need to be amplified or detailed. I suspect the 50-Year Water Plan would be a good vehicle to achieve that.  What’s needed to make the Plan happen? 

Now is the time to act, flesh out the attributes and make the needed reforms actually happen.   “Sin agua, no hay vida”.

* * *

Next Steps

We have a litany of well-known identified crashes just waiting to happen. However, if they are well-known and we do nothing to avert them, they are no longer “accidents.”  They are the consequence of negligence. 

I started this pair of posts with a Warning of Minefields Ahead, dire impending crises. I named a minimum set of Remedial Components to mitigate the crises, and described the need to Reform Our Behavior. How can we move forward?

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The 50-Year Water Plan

New Mexico’s dire impending well-known problems are mounting. Governor Lujan Grisham has asked the state agencies to prepare a “50-Year Water Plan.” She left the interpretation of that requirement somewhat open. And the agencies don’t currently have the bandwidth to provide the needed interpretation. That gives us, the rest of the water-interested people, an opportunity to choose what’s needed.

It’s not all bad news.  The Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates, the New Mexico Water Dialogue, and the House Memorial 1 Working Group have teamed up to make recommendations to inform the 50-year water plan.  

As an initial task, they’ve developed a document entitled “Our Initial Macro View of the 50-Year Water Plan”.  That document sets forth an initial description of the setting for 50-year planning, the purpose and vision of the Governor’s 50-Year Water Plan, and a set of specific goals for the planning.      

The next steps include refinement and a completeness check for the stated vision and resultant goals, broad dissemination and comment on the content, and then development of the planning process and resultant 50-year plan itself. 

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Call to Action

As previously noted, we’re facing a severe challenge.  I’ve named nine visible impending calamities.   There surely are others. After erasing the lethargy, the biggest challenge is for us all mutually to figure out how to share the coming pain equitably, preferably far before one or more of the crises bury us.  Now is the time to participate, flesh out the attributes, and build an acceptable 50-Year Water Plan.  And then make the needed reforms actually happen.  “Sin agua, no hay vida”.

Please come work with us.  Additional participation is needed.  Everyone has some of the skills and experience that can be valuable in the process – viewpoint advocacy, technical knowledge, writing and/or speaking proficiency, organizing ability, project management know-how, social media facility, etc.   

The Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates, the New Mexico Water Dialogue, and the House Memorial 1 Working Group will be conducting a 50-Year Water Planning kickoff soon.

Please send an email to Info@MRGWaterAdvocates.org for the virtual or physical venue details and/or to start a discussion of just how you can get involved.