Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

How not to manage for drought in New Mexico

—Kay Matthews

The most recent National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) report predicts that Elephant Butte Irrigation District will have 38 percent of its normal spring run-off flows this year and won’t even begin the irrigation season until June; it “normally” begins in February. The report also says, that “While it is painful to contemplate, there is also the possibility that, if the spring runoff fails, we may not have enough water to make any release, allotment, or delivery in 2013. Being so dry for so long, the river will have very high conveyance losses, and those losses occur before any diversion or delivery. A zero release season has never occurred in Project history, and we certainly hope it will not occur this year, but we are in hydrologic new territory, and we must consider the worst.”

This information compounds the fact that the past two calendar years (2011 and 2012) have been the driest and warmest two-year period on record for New Mexico. According to the NRCS, only 1956 was drier in New Mexico: “In light of these desiccating facts, it is no surprise that New Mexico reservoir storage is well below normal in the Rio Grande Basin, Canadian Basin, and Pecos Basin.”

These figures have been all over the news reports (the Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck is always a good source of information and analysis) and have been a hot topic of conversation on the NM State Water Plan listserv ( that circulates among an eclectic group of folks following water issues in New Mexico. Everyone has a different idea of how to deal with these extreme circumstances.

Lynn Montgomery, who contributes to the group, articulated his ideas in an article for the Sandoval Signpost. He wants the State to do its job and implement priority administration through the Rio Grande adjudication. He also wants us to recognize that we are “desert dwellers” and implement meaningful water conservation. A water broker wants us to use free-market forces to move water around to the “highest and best use.” Others exchange information on cloud seeding in Utah and Colorado and want New Mexico to seriously consider trying it. And Las Cruces state senator Joseph Cervantes introduced Senate Bill 440 asking for an appropriation of $120 million from the general fund to protect the senior water rights of the lower Rio Grande Basin through the “importation” of water, the conservation of water, and “acquiring” and/or “retiring” water rights.

Unless your idea of how to address current and impending drought in New Mexico includes building pipelines, dams, and tunnels to move water around and spending lots of money buying water rights, you’re not likely to be hired by a water management bureaucracy in New Mexico or get elected to the legislature (except, maybe, if you are Peter Wirth or Michael Sanchez). Let’s take a look at some of the consequences of these practices.

Compact issues:

The state of Texas filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court in January alleging that New Mexico has failed to comply with the Rio Grande Compact. The suit claims that because of groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Reservoir, Texas isn’t getting its required water delivery. In an earlier agreement between Texas and New Mexico, it was agreed that New Mexico would deliver more surface water to offset its groundwater pumping, but that deal fell apart and Texas has taken the case to the Supreme Court. Now, in this third year of drought, without adequate surface irrigation water, farmers and ranchers are going to continue to pump groundwater to meet their needs.

Native American Adjudication Settlements:

The water rights settlements for the Navajo Nation (San Juan Basin), the pueblos of Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Nambe, and Tesuque pueblos (Aamodt), and Taos Pueblo (Abeyta) were signed by the federal government and the state of New Mexico in 2010 ending years of litigation (almost fifty years for the Aamodt). The Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights settlement, which also affects water flows in New Mexico, was signed in 1988 (then resigned in 2000) and set the standard for costs: originally slated to run at over $500 million, the amount of dams, reservoirs, and hundreds of miles of pipeline and canals were eventually reduced, but only fractionally. The New Mexico settlements continue to rely on massive spending and movement of water.

  • The Navajo Nation was awarded 600,000 acre-feet per year (afy) or 55 percent of San Juan Basin water rights. This settlement also entails several massive projects—the Navajo Irrigation Project (begun over forty years ago and still not completed) and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project—and would cost the federal government $800 million.
  • The Aamodt settlement governs water in the Pojoaque/Nambe/Tesuque communities that are being gentrified with new money and Santa Fe spillover, and the pueblos Tesuque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, and Pojoaque, some of whose hotels, golf courses, and casinos have made them big-time players in the economic development game. Santa Fe County intends to transfer 588 afy of water from Top of the World Farm (TOW) in northern Taos County to help meet its obligation of 750 afy of water to non-pueblo residents, while the Department of the Interior will seek to transfer the remaining TOW water rights, 1,100 afy, to help meet its obligation of 2,500 afy to the pueblos.
  • The Abeyta Adjudication governs only one pueblo: Taos; the other parties include the Taos Valley Acequia Association (representing 55 acequias), the town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and the mutual domestics. Uncontracted San Juan/Chama water rights of 2,990 afy (this was later reduced by three hundred afy, which goes to help fulfill the terms of the Aamodt) are slated for settlement of the Abeyta. The Abeyta will also use a “mitigation well system to offset the surface water depletion effects resulting from future groundwater diversions and consumption.” Mitigation wells, which reach one thousand feet or more into the deep aquifer, will be used to offset at least fifty percent of any Taos Valley tributary surface water depletions resulting from future groundwater pumping.

Water transfers to Facilitate Economic Development:

I’m sure Senator Cervantes would agree with the bureaucrats who have devised these water projects and settlements: we need more water to underwrite economic development for the extractive industries, agribusiness, and the construction and service industry jobs that keep cities afloat. Water transfers, like the top-of-the-world and the hare-brained scheme to drill 37 wells deep into the San Augustin aquifer and pump 54,000 acre-feet of water per year for three hundred years to the highest bidder involve huge amounts of water. While other transfers involve smaller amounts, it all adds up.

Government institutions continue to manage water resources as a commodity and those who “doth protest too much” face bureaucratic and legalistic impediments in the narrow window of opportunity they have to challenge that management. If, at this point in the game, the repartimiento, or sharing, of water can only be achieved on a very small scale within community water systems, at the very least, water adjudications must be completed to protect senior water rights, and serious conservation measures must be implemented to avoid all the political machinations that are promoted as solutions—the pipelines, the dams, the groundwater pumping, and the money.

Printed with permission from La Jicarita

Rio Rancho Bosque Open Space Habitat Restoration to begin

—Peter Wells

Construction work on the Bosque Open Space Habitat Restoration Project in Rio Rancho began on February 25, and is expected to be completed by the end of March.

The restoration project will improve or restore approximately 28 acres of habitat including river habitat for the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher—both on the endangered species list. The project will also restore a degraded wetland, improve wildlife habitat, and improve recreational access to the river. Additionally, the project includes an Integrated Management Plan that will provide recommendations to the city of Rio Rancho for the future management, improvement, and preservation of the Bosque Open Space.

Project work is taking place along the Rio Grande at the North Beach area (at the mouth of Barrancas Arroyo) and at the Willow Creek Bosque Park located in Rio Rancho. A temporary closure of the Willow Creek Bosque Park parking lot and trails will be in effect while project work is taking place.

The Rio Rancho Bosque Open Space Habitat Restoration Project is a coordinated effort by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC), the city of Rio Rancho, and the Friends of Rio Rancho Open Space. The project is slated to cost $456,872 and is funded by the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program through the Bureau of Reclamation and NMISC.

For additional information about this project, visit, or contact Lela Hunt with the Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission at 699-4923 or

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