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1000 Friends publishes water management
guide for New Mexico

Lynn Montgomery

Review and Commentary

Taking Charge of our WaterDestiny: A Water Management Policy Guide for New Mexico in the 21st Century

By Alletta Belin, Consuelo Bokum, and Frank Titus

 

It seems everyone in our region has water on the brain. The present drought (don’t let the recent rains fool you, folks) has led us to a new awareness of what is going on with our water resources and given us a thirst for information on water issues. A new publication, produced by 1000 Friends of New Mexico with help from the Turner Foundation, the Thaw Charitable Trust, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and the William C. Kenney Watershed Protection Foundation, goes a long way toward quenching that thirst.

Written in clear, concise language by the most respected experts in the state (in the fields of law, public welfare, and hydrogeology), Taking Charge of our WaterDestiny: A Water Management Policy Guide for New Mexico in the 21st Century gives the reader an easy grasp of the most intricate and complex issues that come with water management, law, and justice. The authors have demonstrated a certain amount of courage in telling us like it is without any padding. “Alarmed” is not too strong an adjective to describe the feeling one gets reading it. But the authors don’t wallow in our predicament; they offer solutions and things to do at every turn.

Our water problem is always going to be a serious one that will force us to make difficult decisions in the future. This book is a wonderful gift for us to use to ensure we make the right decisions now so that our grandchildren are around (yes, folks, this is about survival, not the economy) to make decisions with real choices.

An executive summary at the beginning of the book lays out all the chapters and the recommendations from each. It starts with a preamble:

“The Drought years of 1996, 2000, and 2002 have made clear to many New Mexicans that our water supplies are limited. In many places we are using water faster that it can be replenished; our aquifers are being depleted, and our streams are drying up.

Our state has no plan to meet ever-increasing demands for water with our finite water supplies. Every day, more subdivisions are built on our farmland, more wells are drilled, and we pray for rain. We passively but inexorably allow the future of our state to be determined by the day-to-day operation of outdated laws, policies, and regulations relating to water.

We must change our approach to water. We must manage our water use so that New Mexico in the future is the state we want it to be and need it to be.”

It is worth having the book for the appendices alone. The book,includes an “ABC’s of Water Law,” glossary, and extensive endnotes for further reading and research.

Every citizen should read this book. We all live in the desert, which requires paying close attention to things, and here we must all depend on, and support, one another and our world. It is in each individual’s self-interest to do so.

Copies of Taking Charge of our WaterDestiny can be obtained from 1000 Friends of New Mexico, 848-8232, or locally from Bob Wessely at 867-3889. Bob will ask you to sign for the book, whereby you promise to read it. The book is free  if you pick it up at 1001 Marquette NW in Albuquerque. 1000 Friend asks for a $5 donation if postage is required.

 

Community conversations provide input
to water assembly

Beth Wojahn

Water conversations? Discourse with friends before morning water aerobics? Possibly, but for the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly, community conversations about water run much deeper than that.

The Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly hosted the fifth in a series of “community conversations” in Rio Rancho City Council Chambers on September 16 in order to seek input from citizens regarding solutions to the future of our water. Also present was a representative from Sandia National Labs who demonstrated a real-time model that is being developed.

The Water Assembly, together with the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments and its Water Resources Board, is working with the community to develop the Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan. This region is comprised of Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia Counties.

In that plan are about forty-four alternative action descriptions, narrowed down from 271, for which the Assembly was seeking input.

One of the speakers at the meeting was Bob Wessely, chairman of the Middle Rio Grand Water Assembly. Wessely says the dilemma with water planning is trying to meet everyone’s needs at once. “The problem is having sufficient, affordable, clean water to meet the human and environmental needs while maintaining our lifestyle.” he said. Wessely said every one of those conditions is important. “The hard part,” he said, “is doing all of those at once.”

Wessely went on to explain that a lot of factors go into water planning. Part of the process is knowing how much water supply the region has, calculating what the region’s future demand is, and figuring out how to meet the demand with the supply. Wessely says we are currently using all of the available surface water and we are mining the aquifers. The net loss to the aquifers is about fifty-five thousand acre-feet a year. Putting it in perspective, Wessely said, “It’s a column of water about as big as a house and fairly tall—about two hundred miles. Each year.”

Wessely said we can’t just mine the aquifers forever because as we dig deeper, it gets more expensive. The water gets saltier. Holes are left in the ground where the water used to be. In fifty years, the population could be as much as doubled. We are experiencing a drought. Wessely did not paint a pretty picture, but to help the community factor in all of these possible variables, and more, was Vince Tidwell with Sandia National Labs. 

Tidwell said the model he is working on can provide an unbiased tool for quantitative consideration and comparison of water-management alternatives and scenarios. “In other words,” he said, “what if we made a decision to put some kind of policy in place where we encourage people to use low-flow toilets. How much water would we expect to save from pumping water from the aquifer or from the surface water?” Tidwell then compared it to another policy like encouraging Xeriscape in our yards or thinning out the bosque. The model compares and contrasts all of the scenarios and figures out an approximate cost to the region.

The model also demonstrates the interconnectedness and complexity of the regional water system. “. . . [I]f you tweak something in this part of the system, it could ripple through and have some impact on other parts of the system,” Tidwell said.

After Tidwell’s demonstration of the model, people had lots of comments and questions. Are other regions within the state doing the same thing? Is the model going to include legal and socioeconomic factors? What is the typical rate of evaporation? Do we need a water court?

With the questions answered and comments made, it was time to vote on the alternative actions. The alternative actions come from a series of public meetings and technical people. 

Oversized ballots were taped around the room and every voter received four blue and four black dots. These dots were votes, with the blue being “important” and the black being “not so important.” 

Big vote-getters were Ballot A-1, which suggests restoring the bosque habitat and managing vegetation in the bosque to reduce evapo-transpiration by selectively removing vegetation and promoting plants; and Ballot A-27, which proposes to reuse treated wastewater for nonpotable uses.

The Assembly is to write the water-plan document using all of the feedback they’ve gathered and then get into the official blessing segment of the plan. To learn more about the region’s water situation and the forty-four alternatives that you can vote on, log on to www.waterassembly.org or call 867-3889.

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