Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study

The Bureau of Reclamation's Rio Grande New Mexico Basin Study, Lobatos Gage to Elephant Butte is a climate change water adaptation collaborative project.  Participants in the Basin Study will develop and evaluate strategies that could help us adapt to our future with much less water while supporting the basin’s unique human culture and ecosystems.

The goals of the Basin Study are to: 

1. Collaboratively develop a common framework to discuss water-resource-related challenges and opportunities in the Study Area, 

2. Increase preparedness for future changes in water supply and demand, and 

3. Provide a sound technical basis for water planning infrastructure and policy decisions throughout the basin. 

The Basin Study will develop information and tools that will enable future decision-makers to support a resilient, economically sound, and environmentally healthy basin. 

Dagmar Llewellyn, Relamation's accomplished hydrologist and climate scientist, is the project manager.  The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is the lead non-federal participant.  Numerous Rio Grande entities are participating in this collaborative effort.  They are organized into sectors:  agricultural, municipal and development, tribal, educational, grassroots community organizations, and national NGOs.

Participation in the Basin Study is a Water Advocates project.  Based on prior involvement, Reclamation invited the Water Advocates to convene the Basin Study's community organizations sector.  Nineteen diverse New Mexico grassroots organizations, in the Taos area, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Valencia County, and Socorro County have joined the community organizations sector.

Federal funds to conduct the three-year study must be matched.  The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is Reclamation's non-federal cost share partner and co-lead.  The value of participants' labor and direct costs also count as non-federal cost share.

Expected Benefits. New Mexico's Rio Grande water supply is limited, highly variable, and greatly allocated. Commitments in the form of treaties, compacts, water rights, permits, and legal statutes are numerous, complex, and constrain water management flexibility.

In light of these challenges, this Basin Study seeks to:

• Better understand how projected changes to water supply and demand may impact local, especially historically underserved and disadvantaged communities, ecosystems, infrastructure, and operations.

• Develop and evaluate adaptation strategies that can address these challenges in ways that support the basin’s unique human culture and ecosystems.

The Basin Study will inform us about how well a range of water management or sharing options may meet diverse water demands and water values.    Model simulations will cover good to bad control of future greenhouse gas emissions.  The modeling also will take climate response uncertainties into account,

Completion of a Basin Study makes water adaptation projects eligible for federal matching funding.

The Basin Study officially will begin soon and should be completed in 2025.

Water Adaptation Planning.  The Basin Study is not water planning and cannot make any decisions.  Decisions must be made through state and regional water planning.

New Mexicans need the state to define, fund, and initiate a robust, collaborative regional water planning process for the Middle Rio Grande.

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

Water Authority Withdraws – Why?

By Executive Committee | July 13, 2021

On July 13, 2021, U. S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has chosen to end its participation in the just-starting multi-entity Rio Grande Basin Study. The announcement included a copy of the letter from the Chief Planning Officer of ABCWUA to USBR and MRGCD, which provided no rationale…

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Final Draft Plan of Study Released for Comment

By Bob Wessely | May 17, 2021

The Rio Grande Basin Study: Lobatos Gage to Elephant Butte Dam (Basin Study) presents a unique opportunity to develop projections of future water supply and demand and use them to model and evaluate potential adaptation strategies that are not constrained by current operating practices, infrastructure capacity, and policy constraints.

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SECURE Water Act Webinar – Rio Grande Basin

By Executive Committee | May 2, 2021

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will be holding a webinar starting at 1:00 pm Tuesday, May 4, 2021. The session will address the Rio Grande Basin section of the agency’s recently issued Report to Congress. This webpage has links to excellent information about climate change and water supply reliability. The report includes a volume on…

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Draft Plan of Study Released for Comment

By Executive Committee | March 4, 2021

The Rio Grande Basin Study: Lobatos Gage to Elephant Butte Dam (Basin Study) presents a unique opportunity to develop projections of future water supply and demand and use them to model and evaluate potential adaptation strategies that are not constrained by current operating practices, infrastructure capacity, and policy constraints.

Read More

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 Info@MRGWaterAdvocates.org.

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.

Stay Informed and Get Connected

Further Information:

Click here for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation current website on the Rio Grande Basin Study.

Click here for a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website about the overall Basin Studies program.

Click here for a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report on other completed Basin Studies.

Click here for a U.S. Geological Survey website about a narrower area 1995-2001 Middle Rio Grande Basin Study.

Click here for a current U.S. Geological Survey study on the more extended area Upper Rio Grande Basin Focus Area study.

Click here for a New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission 1999-2004 Middle Rio Grande Water Supply Study.

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