Advocacy Project:
Water Planning

Planning for New Mexico's healthy water future has been in progress since the early 1990's.  The processes have not lived up to their full potential, leaving the state facing multiple impending calamities.  The Water Advocates have decided to apply major effort toward ensuring that New Mexico does appropriate water planning to deal with (prevent or mitigate) the coming crises.

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

New Mexico Headed to (Water) Bankruptcy Court?

By Executive Committee | March 10, 2021

The State Constitution requires the State to balance its annual budget, which prevents financial bankruptcy. However, the State is hurtling towards water bankruptcy in many of the State’s distinct hydrologic regions.

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Middle Rio Grande Plain Truths–Please Email Senate Finance Committee Members

By Norm Gaume | March 9, 2021

2021 will bring a wake-up call that will be hard to ignore. We must pivot to cooperatively face our existential water supply issues. The days and years of reckoning are upon us.

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Water Advocates–Outreach to ISC Re: Water Planning

By Executive Committee | February 18, 2021

Water Advocates comment publicly regarding the NM Interstate Stream Commission’s water planning study session. The comments identify essential elements of a meaningful NM water planning process.

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A Small Farm Future

By Lynn Montgomery | February 8, 2021

Introduction As the din of calls to deal with all the profound crises—social, cultural, economic, and environmental—finally start to dominate the political discourse it might serve us well to start to build a coherent vision of where this is going to end up. Author and farmer Chris Smaje has given us a comprehensive guide to…

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Opportunity Knocked. Will We Open the Door?

By Bob Wessely | January 16, 2021

At the New Mexico Water Dialogue’s annual statewide meeting (January 13-14, 2021) the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) launched the process to develop a Fifty-Year Water Plan for New Mexico.  The plan presents a new opportunity to really face up to and address New Mexico’s scarcity of water issues in each unique hydrologic region. …

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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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Planning for water scarcity and our changing climate

By Executive Committee | November 27, 2020

Interstate Stream Commission members agree the need for effective water planning is urgent. Yet two years into this administration, the staff is not yet focused on “helping New Mexicans plan for water scarcity and a changing climate.”

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State Water Actions Urgently Required

By Norm Gaume | November 15, 2020

Leadership and unprecedented actions are needed to prevent a Rio Grande Compact violation in 2021. Serious water planning can no longer be neglected. The legislature is requested to take five actions.

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50-Year Water Plan Briefing Paper Needs Work

By Bob Wessely | November 10, 2020

The ISC provided a draft of a “Briefing Paper: 50-Year Water Plan. If we want to make the Fifty-Year Water Plan exercise meaningful, the initial (objectives) paragraph of the Briefing Paper is far too weak. It must be strengthened significantly.

The first paragraphs of the document should unambiguously emphasize a (the) purpose or goal of…

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Nearly Half of the U.S. Is in Drought. It May Get Worse.

By Executive Committee | October 31, 2020

The New York Times published an article on October 15 “Nearly Half of the U.S. Is in Drought. It May Get Worse.” Nearly half of the continental United States is gripped by drought, government forecasters said Thursday, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the Southwest and South. Mike Halpert, deputy…

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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

Description of the Advocacy Project

Making New Mexico Water Planning Effective

State and regional water planning are needed to effectively evaluate and recommend solutions to many of New Mexico’s water problems.  Planning must be embraced as an essential element of effective water governance.  Changes are required to make the state-funded regional water planning programs productive.  Plans are needed for compliance with compacts and improved sustainability of overtaxed groundwater supplies.  The State’s water planning since the 1987 statutory establishment of regional water planning has not met these needs.

To the Water Advocates, "effective" means (1) water plans are based on reliable hydrologic measurements and science, (2) narrow or close the gaps between water use and renewable supply, and (3) after meaningful government reviews and approvals, are actually implemented.

Little of the planning completed to date has been effective for many reasons, including that implementation has received little to no emphasis.

Water planning should strive to protect our water supplies and make our uses of them more resilient.  Planning should seek to collaboratively identify and implement balanced realistic solutions to solve real problems.  Water plans should integrate goals and policies, including land-use decisions, water quality standards, recreational needs, environmental protections, agricultural uses, urban growth demands, tribal requirements, and climatic changes.

Water planning at all levels must identify opportunities for conservation and seek to stop waste and non-conserving uses. To minimize the impact of climate change and build resilience, it is imperative that New Mexico plan for dealing with variable water supplies, including a focus on water-energy nexus, drought planning and preparation for extreme precipitation events to minimize their adverse impacts.

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is the state agency with legal responsibility for New Mexico's regional and state water quantity planning programs.

Water planning should be an adequately funded, ongoing process seeking to create remedies to identified problems through negotiation.  The potential benefits to individuals and to entities must be made clear to assure adequate interest for broad and diverse participation.

Regional geographic boundaries must be congruent with the problems and hydrological realities the region’s inhabitants face together.  All significant stakeholder interests must be adequately represented and their voices heard.   Shared goals and strategies for achieving them must be negotiated.  Effective water planning for regions whose inhabitants share a common source of water requires coordination of local water plans at the regional level, to identify and seek to resolve conflicts.

The State must recognize the water interests of the many sovereign tribes through State outreach to New Mexico tribes and government-to-government consultations.  Addressing tribal interests is both a constraint on and an integral part of water planning and must be prioritized.

State laws governing regional water planning are out-dated.  The State Water Plan Act, passed in 2003, contains many good recommendations but the 2018 Water Plan followed its own course independent of the requirements of that law.

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Pursuing House Memorial 1 (2017)

The New Mexico Legislature passed House Memorial 1 in 2017 that requested a Task Force of regional water planners be convened by the ISC and charged with providing recommendations to the legislature and to the ISC to:

  • extend water planning beyond the then current state water plan process horizon of 2018
  • move forward from the 1987 authorization of regional water planning
  • make water planning more robust and effective

Water Advocates members worked with a sponsor to prepare the memorial and to secure its unanimous passage.

A Memorial is a statement of the Legislature's intentions or requests, but is not a law.

The House Memorial 1 Working Group resulted from a New Mexico Water Dialogue discussion in 2015 regarding problems with the state’s regional water planning programs and water governance in general.     That led to preparation of the memorial.

State water agencies, under Governor Martinez's administration, declined to devote any attention and resources to completing the water planning examination requested by the memorial.  Rather than let the Memorial's requests go unaddressed, volunteers from multiple water planning the House Memorial 1 Working Group's efforts continued.

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Making the Case for Change

The House Memorial 1 Working Group developed a white paper entitled Making the Case for Changea six-page call to reform New Mexico’s approaches to water.  It identifies four major water problems that the state faces but has not faced up too. Making the Case for Change also describes five core initiatives that together would address the four problems.

Two of the authors presented it to the Legislature's Water and Natural Resources Committee in 2018.

Three legislative bills introduced in 2019 address numerous aspects of needed reforms (HB187, SB558, and SB560).  Respectively, they address needed changes to the state’s water code, means to keep the Rio Grande Compact secure, and how to make water planning become an effective tool of improved water governance.  The bills were all opposed by the state water agencies on the basis that the agencies prefer to have the discretion to decide whether and how to conduct water planning and to determine and implement, or not, needed water policy changes.

The Water Advocates’ Board is determined to pursue implementing the New Mexico water planning recommendations in Making the Case for Change as one of its three advocacy projects.  The Water Advocates is now the non-profit home for the House Memorial 1 Working Group.  The Water Advocates seek to advance water planning to identify requirements that if implemented would provide for New Mexico's long-term water survivability.

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Planning for the Middle Rio Grande Region

Before transitioning to become the Water Advocates, the organization's name was the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly.  Its job was to work with stakeholders to prepare the 2004 Regional Water Plan, addressing water use and supply for a portion of Middle Rio Grande basin.  The 2004 plan contains many good recommendations that were the result of a long process of collaboration among water user groups.  Few of these recommendations have been implemented.

The 2004 plan was updated in 2017.  The update recommends implementation of some more important recommendations of the 2004 plan.

The Water Advocates will push for the Interstate Stream Commission to prepare a meaningful water plan for the entire Middle Rio Grande
Region with full engagement of water right owners and the public.  The water planning for the Middle Rio Grande will recommend the actions that all of us must take in order to exist within our physically and legally available water supplies of the future.

The water plan will develop a set of recommended actions that if implemented would be expected to achieve the modeled outcome.  Outcomes of alternatives will build on and refine the basin study results but formal work to develop the water plan for the region's future should begin before the basin study concludes, as the existing situation may turn out to be urgent.  planning should begin n specific outcome decisions using the results of the basin study and no doubt much additional work.  The plan then must be implemented if the work shows that our water supply future will be substantially more challenged than our recent past.

The Water Advocates plans to prepare a report in 2021 that will provide an updated status of the 2004 and 2017 regional water plans recommendations for the Albuquerque-centered portion of the Middle Rio Grande.  The Water Advocates also will seek participation of citizens within the Middle Rio Grande upstream and downstream to identify the recommendations in their original and 2017 update regional water plans that should be considered in a new plan for the entire Middle Rio Grande Region.

The Water Advocates plan to describe the need to implement the many recommendations in these approved plans throughout the Middle Rio Grande within the framework of the interim results of the Rio Grande Basin Study and New Mexico's Rio Grande Compact compliance status after delivery accounting for 2020 has been publicly reported by the ISC.

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Statewide Water Planning

New Mexico never has prepared a state water plan if the definition is a plan that if implemented would provide for the water future of the distinct hydrologic regions that comprise the state and the state as a whole.  A meaningful state water plan must identify and support reforms needed to assure sufficient water is available for the state's long-term economy.

The first State Water Plan was prepared in 2003 following passage of the State Water Plan Act.  The plan has many good recommendations that have not been implemented.

The 2018 State Water Plan is described by its authors as a “resource guide.”  It is not the third update to the 2003 plan due in 2018 as set forth in the State Water Plan Act (link).  The 2018 State Water Plan disregards the content described by the Act.  It is not a plan of action for implementation.  It fails to substantively address address water budgets, gaps between water use and renewable supply, or any of the hard issues that we must face to balance our water uses with our renewable water supplies, improve the resilience of our water supplies, and adapt to less surface water due to climate change.

The Water Advocates submitted detailed comments on the draft of the 2018 plan.  Many other substantive comments were submitted.  The ISC listed all comments and provided a brief response to each.   The ISC response considered most substantive comments to be "out-of-scope."   Most substantive comments were not addressed in changes to the draft plan or were deferred until the next round of state water planning.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's water policy calls for creation of a 50-year state water plan as a "top statewide priority."   Her policy says,

... the state must engage local communities on an ongoing basis so we can identify new risks and opportunities as they emerge, and develop new policies as necessary.  We also need to build consensus around state and local priorities.  This effort will require more money to pay for additional professional and technical staff, as well as the technical studies that should be the basis for any water management plan.

Funding for the state water plan was requested by the Governor but was not approved by the 2020 Legislature.

The Interstate Stream Commission has made no discernable progress toward the creation of a meaningful plan that addresses how we will balance our uses in the state's many basins to provide water for communities and their future economies.

The Water Advocates have summarized steps that are essential to making this important water planning effort effective in helping us plan for water scarcity and a changing climate.

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