Why Should You Plan for Water?

The Issue – Who gets water when there isn’t enough? At a simplified level, the current New Mexico “Priority Administration” regulations, if enforced when there isn’t enough water, would provide much of the water to irrigators first, leaving very thirsty cities and towns. And with desperately thirsty cities and towns, the New Mexico economy would wither, taking down those irrigators as well as virtually everyone else.

New Mexico law provides a workaround.  It allows for a community of neighbors on a common water source to create an agreement on how to “Alternatively Administer” water. If done well, such agreements could equitably balance the impact of water shortfalls and minimize the pain to the overall community.

An Opportunity –The 2023 New Mexico Legislature recognized the risks, and unanimously passed the Water Security Planning Act (WSPA, a.k.a. 72-14A-NMSA). While some encouragement would be helpful, the 2024 Legislature is poised to provide funding to vigorously implement the unanimous 2023 Act. 

WSPA provides a formal guide for regions of the state and their included communities to come together and develop programs and policies (agreements) to share water equitably, consistent with physical reality.

The Act concurrently provides a mechanism for the regions and their communities to identify current and future problems, to identify needed infrastructure projects, evaluate and prioritize such solutions, and then, with the state’s help, seek funding to implement the projects.

The Goal – Together, the programs, policies and projects will form a plan to deal with regional water in the future. To work effectively and to provide equitable results, the planning process must involve proper consideration of input from all stakeholders – at the regional level to meet region-wide constraints, and at the community level for addressing localized problems. 

A Prime Case – Let’s consider the Middle Rio Grande Region (from the Los Alamos Highway to Elephant Butte Reservoir). That area encompasses a big fraction of the state’s population and its economy. The Middle Rio Grande has an urgent problem – risk of expensive Compact violation.  Accordingly, we want to start the planning effort promptly, in parallel with the state’s rule-making process. 

We all draw from the same water source: the Rio Grande and the aquifer that lies under the river, which in turn are fed only by precipitation (rain or snow). That precipitation is highly variable. 

Over the past decade or so, the Region has been regularly using more water than it is entitled to use.  If unabated, the rapidly accruing debit (see figure on following page) will almost surely lead to lawsuits, astronomical taxpayer costs, and potentially, federal Supreme Court control over New Mexico water. And with a warming climate, more of the incoming surface water will evaporate leaving even less for use, which will drive groundwater users to increase their impact on the already-damaged aquifers. 

We (virtually all of us) have become spoiled, accustomed to having and using plenty of water. You might remember that the last two decades of the 20th century were the wettest in 2000 years, but the past two decades have been among the driest. And significant further climate-based reduction is projected. 

What’s Coming? – With grant funding, state concurrence, and nationally recognized coordinators, the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates are convening a collaborative, broad, multi-stakeholder process to establish the well-balanced regional water resilience planning Entity that WSPA calls for. That Entity will conduct a multi-year, publicly driven and scientifically based water planning process leading to a consensus plan for program and policy agreements along with evaluated and prioritized infrastructure projects ready for legislative and other implementation funding.

For the MRG to have a viable water and economic future under changed climates, we can’t continue in a siloed race to the bottom. All interests must be represented, collaboratively participate, and be duly respectfully heard. The process must keep water at the forefront and develop a consensus on the best solutions going forward. 

And this means you.  Agua es vida.  Do your part!  

Email the Water Advocates today to say you would like to participate!

Bob Wessely has worked with and led the Water Assembly, now Water Advocates, for twenty-five years. Partnering with the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments, the Assembly coordinated the planning process that resulted in the 2004 MRG Regional Water Plan.

In Bob’s previous 30-year career, he co-founded and served as Technical Director of SciSo, Inc., an Albuquerque software system engineering and management consulting firm supporting diverse industries nationwide. Although Bob holds a PhD in Theoretical, Solid-State Physics, at heart he is a systems engineer who enjoys finding solutions for problems important to NM and its communities, especially water.

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