What is in this article?:
- Drought, litigation muddy New Mexico’s water supply.
- Groundwater provides short term hope for N.M. pecan growers.
- New Mexico farmers say waters of the Rio Grande do not run deep as once they did.
Drought-induced political two-step
EBID officials say the drought is to blame for growing tensions between state officials in Texas and New Mexico over water allotments of the Rio Grande, complicating matters even more. Until recent years, three states, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, have honored a Rio Grande Compact to share the waters of the upper Rio Grande.
Colorado’s delivery of water across the New Mexico state line is based on stream gauge readings near the river’s headwaters, but getting water to Texas is not as simple. According to the Compact, New Mexico delivers water into Elephant Butte Reservoir, located 90 miles north of the border with Texas. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation then allocates water to Texas and New Mexico, historically dividing available water. New Mexico has traditionally received about 57 percent of available water and Texas about 43 percent.
But in a federal lawsuit earlier this year, Texas officials charge New Mexico with violating the Compact by allowing diversions of surface water and by increasing groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico, which in turn depletes river levels in the Rio Grande and, ultimately, the amount of water Texas receives.
Prior to the Texas lawsuit, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office filed litigation against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation questioning the federal government’s right to allocate waters within the state. Recently they accused Texas officials of initiating litigation against New Mexico with the U.S. Supreme Court over water rights rather than opting to address increasing water use problems within the Lone Star State.
Officials within the New Mexico State Engineer’s Office say their state-initiated litigation against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was largely based on a 2008 Rio Grande Project operating agreement that redistributed New Mexico surface water to Texas at the expense of farmers in southern New Mexico. They say New Mexico officials never agreed to be a party to that agreement.
Steven Hernandez, attorney for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, says the District is waiting for state and federal officials to act on matters of litigation. But he says New Mexico officials may be at blame for Texas litigation filed with the Supreme Court because the Attorney General of New Mexico failed to act. He said the water district stepped up to help barter an agreement when New Mexico state officials failed to agree with El Paso Water District and U.S. federal officials who signed on to the 2008 Operating Agreement.
Hernandez offered yet another solution to the ongoing disagreement recently.
“We’ll make sure Texas gets its deliveries. If additional water is needed, EBID will guarantee that. In exchange, EBID farmers want the threat of Texas suing in the Supreme Court removed,” he said.