Water Authority Withdraws – Why?

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 for their withdrawal.

One wonders why one of the main suppliers of water in the middle Rio Grande would choose not to participate. The Basin Study is primarily a federally funded project to objectively study the Basin’s hydrology in depth. It will model the hydrology and the impact of proposed adaptation studies. That resulting hydrologic reality modeling will form a firm technical foundation for future water planning endeavors in the face of dire climate change predictions.

Perhaps ABCWUA realized the Basin Study would inject absolute hydrologic reality into its planning process? Perhaps the ABCWUA realized their Water 2120 water planning model would either be subjected to scrutiny or not be supported by the Study results? Perhaps there might be a risk of surfacing technical deficiencies (flawed assumptions or flawed modeling) in ABCWUA’s vaunted water resources management strategy, “Water 2120: Securing Our Water Future“? That 100-year strategy claims ABCWUA’s ability to serve a dramatically increasing population, more than doubling the demand, without significant impact to users and without a need to procure additional water rights. Some potential issues:

  • The water future security planned in Water 2120 depends on full delivery of imported water from the Colorado River Basin for most years. With the Colorado River Basin states facing steadily increasing water stress, we wonder whether some of those states would out-prioritize some of the San Juan Chama water claims. Might the Basin Study expose likelihood of regular full delivery curtailment?
  • The water future security planned in Water 2120 depends in part on extensive reuse of water and its attendant evaporative losses. Water 2120 doesn’t seem to recognize that the reduction in returned treated water will impose constraints. Santa Fe and the Courts are unlikely to permit the impact to downstream irrigators and to Mexico’s ability to meet its tenuous Rio Grande Compact obligations. Is ABCWUA concerned the Basin Study will expose these constraints?
  • The water future security planned in Water 2120 depends in part on the ability to regularly store water in the aquifers and retrieve it when needed for drought. While inter-season aquifer storage and recovery can help manage water, it is unclear where the Utility Authority would find spare long-term wet water to place in underground storage. Might the Basin Study point out this potential shortfall in the concept?

Perhaps there are other shortcomings the ABCWUA would prefer to keep under the proverbial rug. It is exactly to resolve these doubts or shortcomings that ABCWUA should remain a committed participant in the Rio Grande Basin Study.


  1. William Turner on July 17, 2021 at 10:57 am

    The Albuquerque Basin was thoroughly studied by the John Bredheoft and Niel Plummer of the U.S. Geological Survey. It was thoroughly modeled by Doug McAda and Mike Kernoodle of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Hydrology of the Rio Grande was thoroughly examined by Istavros Papadopoulos (formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey)and his Company. The Rio Grande Operation Model (UGWOM) a multi-agency and interstate effort is now in place. Any of this work is capable of being tweaked and various scenarios run. None of the work already done has been kept under the rug. I know all of the authors and I have worked for the U.S.G.S. myself. They are all highly competent and ethical and they have no axe to grind. They are typical of U.S.G.S employees. I myself have been a U.S.G.S employee and received a Superior Service and an Incentive Awards from the U.S.G.S. on the recommendation of my professional peers. I take exception to any person or entity that impugns their integrity and the high quality of their work. The proper course is to list issues that may not have been covered in previous work. The tools are in place to answer those specific issues. I am sure that the funding would be provided for those who have to tools to run specific scenarios. To say that we need to study hydrologic reality of the Basin reflects total ignorance of reality. To the list of names above one must add John Hawley, Hydrologist and the Dean of New Mexico Geology and Sean O’Connell both consumate stratigraphers of the highest ethical standing and whose work forms the foundation of all recent hydrological models of the Albuquerque computer models.

  2. Lynn Montgomery on July 17, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    In 2013 author Bill deBuys came out within a book titled “A Great Aridness” (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11286222-a-great-aridness). In it he coined the term “mega-drought” Past hydrological studies might have been perfect, but in light of the great aridness we find ourselves in, they might be obsolete as far as finding our way into the future. Better to consult Mr. deBuys, who has made accurate predictions.

  3. Bob Wessely on July 17, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    There is no question that the basin has been credibly studied and modeled ad nauseum by USGS and others. In my understanding of the Executive Committee’s blog post, they’re asking, why did ABCWUA quit the Basin Study? Is ABCWUA concerned about scrutiny being applied to ABCWUA’s modeling, their modeling assumptions, and/or inferences from their modeling? I don’t see any intent to impugn the prior groundwater modeling work. Rather, their issue appears to be if/how ABCWUA ingested all that really good prior stuff into the less-than-credible conclusions in ABCWUA’s 100-year water plan.

  4. Laurie McCann on July 17, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    So many years of studies, opinions, assertions, data points about water in the Rio Grande basin. How might participants in the Basin Study make best use of this information and not plunge into the data wars? One way is to establish a multi-stakeholder Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that could at least come to agreement on some basic facts. And stand up and say, “We don’t agree on everything, but here is what we do agree on. Maybe we could start here.”

    How the Basin Study participants make use of the agreed upon “data points” is another matter. However, it seems that participation of the ABCWUA would be critical in these deliberations. Their lack of participation could hamstring the Study process from the get go. That would be a terrible waste of so much time, money and effort. Not to mention time, of which we have damn little.

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