Now that New Mexico has finally recognized and accepted the reality of climate change, it’s time to realign our water planning processes to that reality. Based, in part, upon concerns with previous water planning processes, the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates is developing a proposal for an updated water planning paradigm. It is entitled “Water Planning Framework: How Should New Mexico Plan for Effective Water Governance?”
The Fifty-Year Water Plan study entitled, “Climate Change in New Mexico over the Next 50 Years: Impacts on Water Resources” describes significantly dwindling water availability, likely well beyond the mega-droughts we experienced over the past 2000 years.
No longer can the driving force for water planning be: justify New Mexico’s need for its water. Nor can it any longer be how to manage the regular annual fluctuations in our over-promised water supply. No, we need to face up to the coming significant and permanent reductions in available water and figure out how to minimize the dire impacts to the state’s economy and lifestyles.
The state needs a robust capability to plan for the water shortfalls, to take the preemptive remedial actions that are necessary, and to continuously replan as the natural and human environments change.
The Water Planning Framework proposes a revised approach for planning to deal with our water. The Framework reminds us that it is virtually always far cheaper to anticipate and prevent disasters than to clean up after them. The Framework presents rationale for planning, what kinds of benefits can accrue, a description of the necessary planning institutions that need to be established, how they should relate to each other, and it enumerates a family of planning components that can be involved in a robust process.
Bottom-Up: Community Entities – The Framework recommends a bottom-up approach to planning for water. Water planning should be an ongoing, iterative process that is intended to identify problems and develop solutions. To be effective, planning must directly lead to on-the-ground action, not merely reside on a shelf. The recommended approach recognizes that local communities are the appropriate level and best equipped with the knowledge to identify and deal with many of the problems. Therefore, the Framework envisions the encouragement and support of self-defined community planning entities within regions.
Regional Entities – Above the communities is a regional coordination and planning structure. The state is asked to establish and fund ongoing regional water planning entities. The regional planning entities are defined on a hydrological basis – those areas sharing a common source of water (major watersheds, river basins or major reaches, or aquifer systems). Those regional entities are expected to coordinate and aggregate the planning from their constituent self-defined communities. The regional entities also need to plan for region-wide problems (e.g., compact restrictions, declining aquifers) and coordinate their planning, as appropriate, with neighboring regions.
State Entity – The state water planning entity is responsible to obtain and distribute funding for water planning, as well as overseeing the subordinate planning efforts. It is expected to identify problems of a statewide nature and develop solutions. The state entity verifies that sufficient inter-region coordination of plans has taken place. It also coordinates its planning efforts with other state agencies concerned with water, such as the Environment Department and State Forestry. Finally, the state water planning entity is tasked to approve regional plans and to support approved plans.
Support and Accountability – The planning support and accountability processes are a necessary ingredient. Funding and technical support flows from state to regions to communities. Accountability reporting flows from communities to regions to the state. The regions verify inter-community coordination. The state verifies inter-region coordination. Regional entities provide funding for community planned actions, using funds from the state. Planning entities at each level are responsible to verify or ensure implementation of their recommendations, and adequate monitoring of progress to address situational changes with need for re-planning.
Water Planning Components – The Framework also recommends a set of components for the planning processes at all levels. Of course, some may not be applicable in every case. A beginning step is to identify the problem(s) to be addressed. What needs to be fixed or improved? Then there is a need to identify one or usually more alternative options that could ameliorate or solve the problem. The alternatives need to be evaluated for attributes such as technical feasibility, cost, benefits, legal constraints or implications, social and environmental impacts. After the evaluation, recommendations need to be articulated and prioritized. Key pieces that have been traditionally given short shrift are funding and ensuring implementation, monitoring progress against the problem, and iterative planning as new information surfaces.
Summary – The Framework document is in late review stages. Click here for the current draft. When finalized, we believe it should be incorporated as a key recommendation in the Fifty-Year Water Plan. New Mexico needs to establish the robust water planning structures. Those structures will allow the already dry state to address climate-driven impacts in a forward looking way. The forward-looking planning will avoid expensive disasters, those that are already in view and other surprises that will undoubtedly emerge with time.