Advocacy Project:

The Rio Grande Basin Study

The Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study is a three-year federally funded program to develop a science based projection of possible future water situations in the middle Rio Grande (Colorado state line to Elephant Butte).  The project will serve planning decisions for water by modeling likely water availability in response to climate and various human behaviors.  The project development will involve heavy community, as well as local, state and federal, participation.

Posts - Any technical papers, data, opinions, announcements, etc. that relate to this Rio Grande Basin Study project appear just below.

Rio Grande Basin Study is Moving Forward

By Executive Committee | December 5, 2020

The Rio Grande Basin Study is beginning to feel more tangible. Over sixty people attended Reclamation’s quarterly “All Partners” meeting held Dec. 4. After a presentation on in-progress climate assessment research and a coming agricultural adaptation workshop, the discussion focused on the detailed draft plan for the three-year …

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Report – All Partners Meeting September 2020

By Bob Wessely | October 31, 2020

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study conducted a webinar meeting on September 10, 2020 for all of the program partners (as of that date). The meeting agenda topics included a status report on the program, a presentation on the Ten Tribes Partnership involvement in the Colorado River Basin Study, and…

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Basin Study Guidance Documents

By Executive Committee | July 28, 2020

The Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study seeks to develop a credible, technically based model of the Rio Grande’s possible futures, in the environment of varied management and climate alternatives. When complete, the Study will provide a sound scientific basis for planning the Rio Grande portion of New Mexico’s water future. It is one of…

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Report – All Partners Meeting April 2020

By Executive Committee | May 15, 2020

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study conducted a webinar meeting on April 22, 2020 for all of the program partners (as of that date). The meeting agenda topics included the partners’ Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the program, the intended governance structure for the program and a preliminary look at…

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We welcome postings about this Water Advocates project from interested parties.  Please email your posts, preferably in Word format, to the Editorial Board at

Description of the Advocacy Project

What is the Rio Grande Basin Study?

The Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study is a multi-year project led by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District working in collaboration with local water agencies and non-profit community groups as participants to identify challenges and vulnerabilities requiring adaptation strategies. It will seek to produce four key elements:

  • State-of-the-art projections of future supply and demand by river basin and compact segment in New Mexico upstream of Elephant Butte Dam.
  • An analysis of how the basin’s existing water and power operations and infrastructure will perform in the face of changing water realities.
  • Development of strategies and scenarios to meet current and future water demands while maintaining required downstream deliveries.
  • The benefits and drawbacks of each selected strategy or scenario.

The basin study is one of three Advocacy Projects of the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates.

Why Is the Study Needed?

It's the first study to officially update a Middle Rio Grande water budget since 2004 and will be the first to identify scientifically simulated forecasts of the amount of water that will be available for depletion within the Middle Rio Grande in the future.  The Basin Study will evaluate alternatives or scenarios for how we can adapt to changing temperatures, precipitation, and runoff that is legally available for consumption in the Middle Rio Grande.

The State of New Mexico is legally required to distribute the available Rio Grande surface water in accordance with various requirements of the Rio Grande Compact approved by the United States of American, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas in 1938.  The Compact is federal law and is the law of the three signatory states.

Depletions of water in the Middle Rio Grande must not exceed the Middle Rio Grande’s share established by the Rio Grande Compact.

The Middle Rio Grande water use recently has been within, but just barely so, its legally allocated share of the river.  Climate change in the basin will result in decreases in surface water flows and changes in the timing of flows.  New Mexico must both meet its water needs and continue to live within its legally allocated share of the river.

Failure to do so would make New Mexico subject to the extraordinary costs (both in dollars and water) of expansion of the Texas v.  New Mexico litigation now before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Middle Rio Grande is insulated from that litigation as long as deliveries of water through the Middle Rio Grande to the Lower Rio Grande at Elephant Butte Dam are in compliance with the Compact’s numeric limits on depletions of Middle Rio Grande inflows at the Otowi stream gage near Los Alamos.

What Will the Basin Study Actually Do? 

The Basin Study will apply sophisticated water resources and climate models developed by various government agencies to reproduce historical flows to demonstrate how well the models perform.  The models then will be used to simulate the performance of future water management alternatives.  The alternatives will be evaluated regarding their forecast ability to meet both our future uses within the Middle Rio Grande and New Mexico's obligation to deliver water that is legally allocated by federal and state law for use below Elephant Butte Dam.

The Basin Study will provide a sound scientific basis for planning how New Mexico can adapt to the coming significant shortfalls of water, while meeting its economic and quality of life needs in a socially equitable manner.

What Is the Water Advocates’ Role?

Much of the non-federal cost share will be provided by the value of the labor and participation of the Water Advocates and other non-federal and non-governmental organizations who have agreed to collaborate with the Bureau of Reclamation to perform the New Mexico Rio Grande Basin Study.

The Water Advocates will be participating in the Rio Grande Basin Study as a member of the Steering and Technical Committees.  We are a self-organized community-based advocacy organization with a Middle Rio Grande water planning history since the 1990s. We expect to be a leading voice, working collaboratively with other community-based organizations and the technical committees to define challenges and vulnerabilities.  In turn, those definitions will be used to develop much-needed adaptation strategies to address New Mexico’s water shortfalls.  As the study unfolds, we will insist on scientific integrity and will conduct outreach efforts using social media, community conversations and other tools to obtain meaningful ongoing and informed community input.  We intend to ensure that informed public input influences development of alternative strategies and how well these strategies meet our needs, obligations, and diverse values.

The Basin Study by federal law cannot decide what the solutions will be or if or how solutions will be implemented.  The Water Advocates strongly believe and will take steps to help develop a competent water plan for the entire Middle Rio Grande region.  We want to help the residents of the basin consider the problem and possible solutions, refine as necessary, and then select alternatives that must be implemented in order to adequately address our basic underlying water supply and management problems.

How Can I Get Involved?

During and after the Basin Study is completed, collective community action that is socially connected is needed to ensure its scientific integrity and identification of diverse, often conflicting, community values and needs. It will be quite challenging to identify and implement the broad, sweeping changes we anticipate will be required to balance our water supply and demand and plan for a healthy water future.

We are eager to obtain your thoughts and desires and provide feedback on the project progress.  Please work with us to help ensure all viewpoints are duly considered.

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