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.