Water Planning: Shadows of our Future Ancestors

by Laurie McCann

“From its first rock in the sky to its last embrace by the estuary at the sea, the river has been surrounded by forces and elements constantly moving and dynamic, interacting to produce its life and character. It has taken ocean and sky; the bearing of winds and the vagary of temperature; altitude and tilt of the earth’s crust; underground waters and the spill of valleys and the impermeable texture of deserts; the cover of plants and the uses of animals; the power of gravity and the perishability of rock; the thirst of things that grow; and the need of the sea to create the Rio Grande.” – Paul Horgan, Great river: the Rio Grande in North American history, Vol. 1

Achieving the cornerstone goals of regional water security and sustainable resilience will necessitate an unprecedented level of cooperation among people with substantially diverse interests and experiences. In creating the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) Valley’s sustainable water entity, as mandated by the Interstate Stream Commission, our approach must be inclusive of all stakeholder interests – people, cities, and communities, their economies and contributions to the state economy, their public welfare with respect to water governance and the public welfare of the region. This includes formal recognition of the MRG riverine and riparian environment and Indigenous values and Indigenous superior but unquantified rights. 

The Advocates propose to create a regional water planning entity* to address our pressing needs for long-term, resilient water governance.  The intention of the Advocates is to build a “coalition of the willing” to collaboratively develop a regional water planning entity for the Middle Rio Grande (Otowi Gauge to Elephant Butte Reservoir). Our intention is supported by the 2023 Water Security Planning Act (WSPA) and will be created in collaboration with the N.M. Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). 

Watching the October MRG webinar, “Water Management and Planning for Water Resilience in the Middle Rio Grande,” a facilitator of complex environmental problems noted “We have never encountered a wicked problem so well set up for success.” 

We propose to “stand up” the entity * in a Strategic Collaboration Summit in 2024. We need the 2024 Legislature to appropriate funds that will become available in late June 2024 to fund the entity’s launch.  Together we will lead a very public process involving hundreds of stakeholders.  We are actively seeking funding to support this process. It will be a key step among two others called out in the WSPA: Development of statewide rules and regulations by the ISC, and groundwater management plans integral to regional water plans. 

The Water Advocates are perfectly placed to help discover and facilitate conversations around essential public interests by hosting meetings between diverse stakeholders, conceptualizing how to share the water we have, posing the hard questions, and building respect and trust between stakeholders for long-term cooperative working relationships. 

Lyla June Johnston [Navajo/ [Cheyenne] speaks of the core values of her elders. They talk about the enduring value of competition. “But it was a competition of who could be the most humble, who could be the most kind, who could be the most loving, who could be the most generous, and who could be the most courageous, not in an egotistical sense, but in a communal sense.” (We Are the Middle of Forever, Jamail & Rushworth).  

We will work to support all Summit participants in bringing these qualities forward. We seek to integrate the rich traditions and enduring wisdom of our tri-partite New Mexico culture with respect and a clear eye on our future. What we do today will shape the future in ways we cannot know. We are, indeed, the shadows of our future ancestors. We invite you to join us in this exceptional adventure.  

Laurie McCann is a board member of the Water Advocates for New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande. She played leadership roles in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and American River campaigns. She later pivoted to finding more inclusive solutions to complex water problems, including the Sacramento Water Forum, the South Fork American Dialogue, and the Fisheries and Aquatic Habitat Collaborative.

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