Attorneys for the federal government submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court last week and argued in favor of the high court agreeing to hear the merits of a complaint filed last year by the State of Texas against New Mexico over shared water rights on the Rio Grande.

In a complaint to the Supreme Court last year, Texas charged that groundwater pumping in the Hatch and Mesilla valleys of New Mexico to irrigate pecan and chili pepper crops is robbing the Rio Grande of higher flows and reducing recharge, depriving Texas of water that belongs to them.

New grants available from USDA to help communities meet water challenges…

Attorneys for the government filed a motion last week that would clear the way for the Supreme Court to hear the complaint, a move that technically elevates the case. It would, if approved, establish a precedent by naming the U.S. Supreme Court as the only court that holds initial and exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court primarily hears appeals; being the court of original and exclusive jurisdiction is unusual.

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Perhaps it is one of the early signs in the growing importance of water and how the issue will continue to explode on a state, local, national and international level in the years ahead unless scientists are wrong and climate change doesn't cause a continuing trend for dry conditions, in other words, until the rains return.      

In effect, in the brief filed last week, federal attorneys asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the dispute over how waters of the Rio Grande are to be divided between the two states. But the implications of the high court’s involvement could go beyond that, possibly impacting international water management agreements and policy, especially if the current drought should continue multiple years as forecast.  

In regards to the current issue, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King says he is opposed involving federal courts in water issues between states and instead argues the legal authority in the case should be a New Mexico State District Court. He is accusing federal lawyers of siding with Texas by their latest action and says New Mexico is meeting their obligations as outlined by the Rio Grande Compact, an interstate water agreement that indicates how the water of the Rio Grande will be shared by Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

New Mexico, however, has previously acknowledged before a New Mexico State District Court that groundwater pumping in New Mexico and Texas has reduced the efficiency of the Rio Grande. But since pumping groundwater in Texas only happens after the water stored at Elephant Butte Reservoir is divided as noted in the Compact, then pumping groundwater in New Mexico would be the only cause of reduced levels in the reservoir, the point at which the water is divided among the states.