Working to save New Mexico’s water supply
Most of us don’t think much about water. As long as it comes out of the shower head, the kitchen faucet, or the garden hose, we just sort of expect it to be there. On the infrequent occasion that the water does not flow, we really notice and we make angry calls to the local water utility and tell them just how inconvenient it is to not have water.
You may have heard that I recently brought a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Reclamation because the agency unilaterally reclassified 65,000 acre feet of New Mexico water so that it could be made available for release to Texas. I believe this water rightfully belongs to the people of New Mexico and the BOR’s actions are illegal.
The water in question is lawfully stored and classified as New Mexico Credit Water under the Rio Grande Compact. This federal agency changed our water’s classification to a different designation so that it can be delivered to the El Paso County Water Improvement District in Texas. I believe this action is inappropriate and must not be allowed in order to protect what is considered by many to be New Mexico’s most precious natural resource.
This is the problem in a nutshell. In the lower Rio Grande region the BOR administers the Rio Grande Project, which is used to allocate water between Elephant Butte Irrigation District in New Mexico, EPCWID in Texas, and to the Republic of Mexico in compliance with the interstate Rio Grande Compact and an international treaty between the United States and Mexico.
Historic Project operations divided the water on a prorated basis that was directly indexed to the amount of irrigated farmland in the two national irrigation districts. A formal survey conducted by the federal government indicated approximately 88,000 acres were irrigated by EBID, or 57 percent of the total amount of irrigated lands. The remaining 67,000 acres (or 43 percent) were irrigated within the EPCWID. The historic allocation of usable water in Rio Grande Project storage vessels, Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs, was allocated to the two districts using this 57/43 ratio.
In 2008 a new Operating Agreement was adopted and implemented that changed the method of allocation of Rio Grande Project waters. I am greatly concerned that this new methodology results in a dramatic shift in the net allocation of project water supplies in the ratio of 38 percent to EBID (NM) and 62 percent to EPCWID (TX), a reversal of historic allocation percentages.
The farmers served by EBID have seen their share of water decrease significantly during the past three years while the amount of land they seek to irrigate has remained unchanged.
Water flowing in the Rio Grande is a shared asset of many people in New Mexico, Texas, and even Colorado. Every water user should receive the amount to which they are entitled under law. It is my job to make sure that New Mexico water is protected and that our water users receive their fair share.