Opportunity Knocked. Will We Open the Door?

How We Could Preserve Our Water Future

At the New Mexico Water Dialogue’s annual statewide meeting (January 13-14, 2021) the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) launched the process to develop a Fifty-Year Water Plan for New Mexico.  The plan presents a new opportunity to really face up to and address New Mexico’s scarcity of water issues in each unique hydrologic region.  Issues now troublesome will be exacerbated by climate change and population growth over the planning period set by the Governor.  Let’s not let this opportunity go by!


The Bigger Picture:  The ISC, assigned water planning responsibility by statute, must ensure that planning for NM water properly happens, including:

  • Establishing the ISC’s roles and responsibilities for effective water planning to increase water supply resilience
  • Identifying, funding, and supporting appropriate institutional entities to do water planning properly, with scientific integrity and accountability
  • Reviewing, approving, and supporting implementation of water plans

Within that ISC role, we believe that water planning has an overall purpose and value.  It should:

  • Identify the nature and magnitude of NM’s current and future water problems at the appropriate geographic scales
  • Develop solutions for scarcity of water and our changing climate before problems become acute and NM is left with little choice
  • Present evaluated and prioritized strategies or actions to increase NM’s water future resilience

 The Current Project:  Within that ISC role assignment and the overall water planning purpose, the Governor requested a Fifty-Year Water Plan that supports water stewardship, sustainability, and equity within a robust, ongoing statewide water management program.  Let’s give the Governor the support she needs!

What It Will Take:  In the context of the Governor’s policy, we presume the purpose of the initial 16-month phase of the Fifty-Year Water Plan is to set the stage and justify effective detailed, science-based planning for New Mexico’s long-term water future including:

  • Bridge communication gaps among stakeholders (individual, local, regional, and state)
  • Identify the locale, nature, and magnitude of water resources/shortfalls across the next 50 years
  • Alert stakeholders to the nature and magnitude of shortfalls
  • Identify the key or major problems that are already known to be facing New Mexico
  • Recognize and organize planning around New Mexico’s distinct hydrologic resources
  • Identify and/or establish the state, regional, and local ongoing planning entities that will conduct water planning to improve water supply resilience
  • Enable responsible entities to develop science-based solutions to current difficulties that will worsen or emerge over the next five decades by considering:
    • Sound geohydrologic science and data
    • Mechanisms to increase supply
    • Mechanisms to reduce losses
    • Mechanisms to reduce human demand
    • Mechanisms to improve the equitable distribution of the shared supply
    • Mechanisms to support public values

Lest We Forget:  In support of all that Fifty-Year Water Plan guidance, we already have examples of problems that must be addressed by water planning entities at appropriate levels. They include:

  • Growing demand for a significantly dwindling supply
  • Need to meet interstate compacts reliably over decades regardless of weather/climate
  • Wants and/or permissions for water exceeding the legally and physically available supply
  • Existing permissions for uses that will drain certain NM aquifers toward extinction
  • Water availability not co-located with water demand
  • Providing water to support human needs equitably
  • Meeting recreation, riparian, cultural, habitat values  
  • Failure to have adequate shortage sharing agreements in place
  • Water for future generations

The Takeaway Point:  The Legislature must recognize the importance and potential of the Fifty-Year Water Plan and provide the requested $750,000 special appropriation for water planning so that the ISC, and all the folks it engages, can implement the appropriate planning processes to improve the health and resilience of New Mexico’s water future.


  1. Ralph J Wrons on January 19, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    Thanks for this information resulting from attending the NM Water Dialogue’s annual statewide meeting. I’m ready to state my support for this 50-year water planning effort and the need for the requested $750K. How do I do that? Send email directly to the Governor’s office? Send email to the members of the Senate Finance Committee to approve post-haste the $750K?
    Do we have to wait 50 years to achieve water resilience, with all proper planning and implementation put in place?
    While I have never employed it, I heard of the Backcasting method many years ago and it intrigued me. As I recall it, in this particular case, you would set a goal of what we define as Achieved Water Resilience (at year 30? With our children and grandchildren in mind, we can’t wait 50 years) and then backcast from that point on what’s needed at say year 25, year 20, year 15 in order to meet the long term goal. I suspect the following years would be actions necessary to maintain and improve that resiliency.
    Another question has to do with this 50-yr planning effort and its intersection with the Rio Grande Basin Study? While I realize the 50 year water plan is for the entire state and the Basin Study is for the specific Middle Rio Grande, that is the most populous region of the state and what I assume is the most significant demand, notwithstanding fresh water for fracking. With that said, will the ISC be working with those in charge of the Basin Study?

    • Bob Wessely on February 8, 2021 at 8:52 am

      On supporting the budget request, the recommendation I’ve been given is to contact the Senate Finance Committee , maybe with an info copy to Caroline Buerkle at the Governor’s Office .

      On waiting 50 years, no. The plan should provide guidance for building and maintaining ongoing resilience as we go along.

      On “backcasting”: While I didn’t explicitly mention it, I would expect that any water plan would include, as part of its implementation scheme, a set of scheduled metrics for verifying progress.

      On the relation between the Fifty Year Water Plan and Rio Grande Basin Study: In principle, the RGBS will provide the technical data (models of the impact of various adaptation strategies) upon which water planners can make water planning policy and infrastructure decisions. However, there is a scheduling conflict. The Interstate Stream Commission intends to complete the FYWP plan within about 16 months. The RGBS is a three year program whose time clock hasn’t started yet. At a minimum, the ISC is a participant in the RGBS and presumably able to take advantage of any RGBS interim products.

  2. Martin Zehr former VP MRGWA on February 26, 2021 at 9:58 am

    “Let’s give the Governor the support she needs!”

    In the context of two regional long-term water plans and decades of public input and dialogue, the Governor speaks as if there is a vacuum. The actions of the city of Albuquerque and the marginal engagement of the city, state and Federal representatives in regional water planning has spoken as loudly as anyone else in regards to their interference in the implementations and recommendations of the already established long-term water plans for the Middle Rio Grande region. The Governor has failed to recognize the previous efforts, failed to re-engage the public and the science. She has failed to take the effort to mitigate for the over-appropriation and the over-reliance of water users on groundwater. The efforts to circumvent the recommendations, the science and the public planning process of the MRGWA will result in a substitute plan that is neither holistic nor based on addressing the real needs and concerns of water users in NM and the Middle Rio Grande region. The largest consumptive users will remain dominant in New Mexico and continue to control water policy and administration. Users and stakeholders have seen and learned that the political governing entities have chosen NOT to act in the public interest. https://waterassembly.org/waterplan.htm

    Thanks Bob W. for all your efforts over the decades.

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