Planning for water scarcity and our changing climate

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.

Interstate Stream Commission members agree the need for effective water planning is urgent. Yet two years into this administration, the staff is not yet focused on “helping New Mexico plan for scarcity and a changing climate.”

Elephant Butte Reservoir is at 2% storage capacity

Interstate Stream Commission members share “an urgent sense of needing to help New Mexico plan for scarcity and a changing climate.” This urgent sense is not reflected by ISC staff. The September 24 staff report promised the staff would present its proposal to kick-off “one specific element” of the 50-year state water plan on November 19th. This proposal was not on the meeting agenda.

In late October, ISC staff privately circulated a draft Briefing Paper for their approach to a 50-Year Water Plan. The MRG Water Advocates recommended these changes to staff. MRG Water Advocates also submitted these public comments to the ISC for its November 19 public meeting. The comments are also pasted in below.

Previously, in May 2020, the MRG Water Advocates Board voted to publicly object to the FY21 staff work plan for water planning contract services due to the work plan’s lack of focus and substance. The Commission approved it with little discussion. Commission members have never discussed the 50-year state water plan in a public meeting.

Instead of a focused, thoughtful approach to use its limited resources, ISC is making small purchases and using “on-call” contractors to do this and that and the other. The failure of water planning staff to meet the September 24 commitment indicates staff efforts are similarly unfocused. What value did spending $250,000 last year for water planning contractor services bring? What value will result from the $350,000 budgeted this year? How will it lead to greater value next year?

Absence of state or regional water plans addressing the imbalances between supply and demand in New Mexico’s varied hydrologic regions is one of several urgent water governance issues for which the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has authority and responsibility but is not addressing as policy makers. Ensuring delivery of the Lower Rio Grande’s enforceable annual legal water share of the Rio Grande, for which ISC has no plan, is another.

ISC is responsible by law for New Mexico’s water planning programs. New Mexicans deserve an ISC work plan for New Mexico’s water planning that has appropriate goals and identifies and prioritizes initial work.

The Commission must assert itself as policy makers to require the agency to reprioritize staff and contractor resources to focus on meeting the urgent need the Commissioners expressed: “to help New Mexico plan for scarcity and a changing climate.” Our water future depends on this.