Water Banking

Water banking is a set of procedures that allow senior water rights holder to "lease" some or all of their water rights to junior water rights users in times when the seniors find the lease to be more profitable than would be the application of water to their fields.  The main issues pertain to controlling or limiting the impact of such leases to third-party water rights holders and/or to interstate compact delivery requirements.

Posts - Any technical papers, data, opinions, announcements, etc. that relate to this Water Banking issue appear just below.

NM Legislation H2O Report Card Now Live!

By Norm Gaume | January 31, 2024

Attention ALL WATER ALLIES!!! We are excited to announce a new non-partisan grassroots website that is tracking water planning funding and legislation in New Mexico! H2OREPORTCARDNMGOV.COM The website serves as a “report card” for the 2024 Legislature on funding water projects identified as priorities by the New Mexico Water Ambassadors, formerly the 2022 Governors Water…

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From the President’s Desk: State Government Neglect of Water Must Stop Now

By Norm Gaume | January 31, 2024

To prevent population evaporation, it is vital that the state fund serious adaptation measures to cope with reduced water availability. This is not a temporary drought but a permanent increase in aridity. The State of New Mexico has the power and resources to initiate required strategic changes. We know the path forward. We urge you to communicate this to the Governor and the Legislature. Do what Water requires. Do it Now.

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Without Water, There’s Nothing!

By Betsy Diaz | January 31, 2024

A stone discovered in ancient rock layers exposed by tectonic shifts delicately picked out of its strata and examined, was found to contain a bit of water billions of years old: young water of our home, planet Earth. Young water, which itself took eons to become a source of all life: around, within, below, above,…

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Commentary: Surviving a drought

By Bob Wessely | January 31, 2024

Drought – nature’s reminder that water does not grow on trees.

Drought is the time when some form of government advice or regulation prescribes that we collectively choose to reduce our uses of water, usually because of some form of government advice or regulation. It is the time when

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From the President’s Desk: “The Middle Rio Grande Water Governance Forecast is for Accelerating Progress in 2024!”

By Norm Gaume | January 10, 2024

Part II – “Co-Creation of a Sustainable Water Future for the Middle Rio Grande.”
The past two years have set the stage for accelerated progress in managing New Mexico’s water resources for much greater resilience, as described in Part I, a 2023 summary report. Part II is about 2024.

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Water Funding by the 2024 Legislature is Essential. Please tell your legislators.

By Norm Gaume | January 10, 2024

Together, New Mexicans made significant strides in addressing the multifaceted challenges of water management and conservation in New Mexico in 2023.

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Communities, Common Water Resources & Jurisdiction

By Lynn Montgomery | January 10, 2024

This is a follow-on to John Brown’s essay “To Thrive in a Climate-challenged World, New Mexicans Should Govern Our Water as a Commons.” We need to grapple with our present situation, legal environment, and predictions, but these are likely to change. We have to ask whether our present water management regime can actually bring about…

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Why Should You Plan for Water?

By Bob Wessely | January 3, 2024

Who gets water when there isn’t enough? At a simplified level, the current “Priority Administration” regulations, if enforced when there isn’t enough water, would provide water to Nations/Tribes/Pueblos and other senior irrigators first, leaving very thirsty cities and towns. And with desperately thirsty cities and towns, the New Mexico economy would wither, taking down

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2023 Year-End Report – From the President’s Desk

By Norm Gaume | December 29, 2023

Together, New Mexicans made significant strides in addressing the multifaceted challenges of water management and conservation in New Mexico in 2023.

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Water Rights … and Water Wrongs

By Bob Wessely | December 6, 2023

While the rules about them are extremely complicated, “water rights” are simply your permission slip from the State to use water, if you can find it (often a big “if”).  ll too often people conflate paper water and wet water. The results can be seriously misleading or worse. 

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We welcome postings on this or other water-related issues from interested parties.  Please email your posts, preferably in Word format, to the Editorial Board at Info@MRGWaterAdvocates.org

Description of the Issue

Water banking provides a mechanism for use of water acquired by transactions that adhere to government water banking rules. Transactions that follow these rules are essentially pre-approved.

A water bank has "deposits" by water rights owners whose rights are currently "in-priority" but unused or which will be unused in a future year.  The water bank leases use of the deposited water, in conformance with the rules.

Implementing workable water banks whose transactions do not increase overall depletions seems to be an essential part of the Middle Rio Grande's future, which will be constrained by having less surface water available due to climate change.

Water banks can help or can hurt an effort to limit and control depletions in a particular geographic area that has less wet water than water demand.  A water bank can make water use transactions easier and more available, which is essential during periods when junior but essential water uses are "out-of-priority" in a water-short year.  Water banks can hurt if water banking transactions actually increase depletions of water in a water-short year.

Office of the State Engineer

The New Mexico State Engineer codified water banking concepts in Rule 19.25.13.32 GENERALIZED HYDROLOGIC ANALYSIS.  This Rule is part of the General Rules for Active Water Resources Administration the State Engineer promulgated in 2004. This Rule establishes conceptual steps to authorize a water bank and two conditions that a pre-approved water banking transaction must meet.

First, the water right used must be valid and "in-priority"  at the time of water use.  Second, water banking transactions must not result in a net increase in water depletions.

Conceptually, it's simple.  However, the technical analysis to define the specific water banking rules within the hydrologic area to be served by the bank requires a significant scientific effort and good data.  The scientific analysis must be performed with integrity for this concept to function fairly and without injury to others.

The Office of the State Engineer has made no progress in implementing a workable water bank pursuant to its 2004 Rule.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District operates a water bank under its own rules.  It leases water from its bulk water right to irrigated lands within its service area from which pre-1907 water rights were previously severed and transferred to support groundwater pumping, likely by a municipality.  "Pre-1907" is a term used to describe legal rights accruing from use of water prior to the adoption of the territorial water Code in 1907.

In 2019, New Mexico's actual delivery of water through the Middle Rio Grande for use below Elephant Butte Dam was 39,000 acre-feet less than its water delivery obligation.  MRGCD water banking transactions in 2019 increased depletions by providing water to irrigate land from which water rights had been severed and sold.   These transactions therefore increased depletions and contributed to the net under-delivery of water through the Middle Rio Grande caused by excessive total depletions within the Middle Rio Grande in 2019.

All other depletions within the Middle Rio Grande contributed to the net underdelivery of Rio Grande water in 2019.  This includes depletion of the river caused by groundwater pumping adjacent to the river, including by domestic wells.

Depletions and the Rio Grande Compact

The Rio Grande Compact requires delivery of water through the Middle Rio Grande for use below Elephant Butte Dam.  Each year, a certain fraction of the Rio Grande total annual inflows to the Middle Rio Grande at the Otowi Gage must be delivered.  This fraction is always 57% or more.

Compact deliveries consist of Rio Grande water that is not depleted within the Middle Rio Grande.  Thus, deliveries to the Lower Rio Grande are managed by limiting and controlling Middle Rio Grande depletions.

This chart shows the history of New Mexico's compliance with water delivery requirements through the Middle Rio Grande.  It illustrates the 2019 under-delivery of water, which caused the first significant cumulative under-delivery since 1990.

Water deliveries through the Middle Rio Grande have continuously complied with the Compact since 1969.

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