a good day (rainy) to announce a Rio Grande Water Compact Forum

Our water supply was the topic of an interesting commentary by VB Price in the NM Independent a few days back. So when I saw an email announcement for the Thursday April 16th evening Rio Grande Water Compact Forum, I went to the website of the sponsoring organization. For twelve years the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly has been in existence, helping bring attention to the issue of water resources here. (*See description of organization at end of their press release at bottom of this post.)

On their website I found a pdf Summary of the Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan 2000-2050 Volume 1 – April 2004 and share this page:

"The Issue
The mission of the regional water plan is to balance water use in the region with renewable supply.
Renewable supply is the amount of water that comes into the region each year that we are legally
entitled to use. We now use on average about 55,000 acre-feet per year more than our renewable
supply. Population in the region has grown by 21% since 1993 and continues to expand by about 1.5%
per year, which will result in even greater deficits in the future if we do nothing.
The difference between use and renewable supply is currently being made up by “mining” groundwater. Although there is some recharge of the aquifer, we are presently using much more groundwater than is recharged each year. As a result, the aquifer has declined as much as 160 feet in some areas of Albuquerque since 1960. This is not sustainable. Continued aquifer declines would soon cause land subsidence in Albuquerque and damage to buildings on the surface, and in the long run, Albuquerque would run out of potable water in the aquifer. The water plan is designed to address these key issues.

Aquifer Drop Since 1960: As much as 160 ft. (in some areas)
Population Growth Since 1993: 21%
Current Population Expansion: 1.5% per year
Current Aquifer Depletion Rate: 55,000 acre-feet per year

How Much?
An acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre of land one foot deep. It is equivalent to 325,851 gallons.
In the Middle Rio Grande, we have been using 17,921,805,000 more gallons (55,000 acre-feet) each year than the region receives, enough to fill a football field eleven miles deep."

After reading all this and renewing my knowledge of our situation, I am sure glad we are getting this good rain. And I am definitely thinking about attending the Fourth Annual Río Grande Compact Public Forum.

Here's most of their press release:

Thu Apr 16th 2009 6:30pm to 8:30pm Fourth Annual Río Grande Compact Public Forum
@ UNM Continuing Education Center, Room C 1634 University Boulevard NE (north of Indian School)
(Registration Free) CONTACTS: Kevin Bean, President Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly (505) 293-9208 KevinBean06@comcast.net Professor Bruce Thomson, Director UNM Water Resources Program (505) 277-7759 WRP@UNM.edu

- Rolf Schmidt-Peterson, Río Grande Basin Manager
New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
Río Grande Compact, 2008 Accounting and 2009 Updates
- Dr. Julie Coonrod, UNM Associate Professor of Civil Engineering
What Climate Change Means to Water Supplies in the Río Grande and How it Might Impact the Compact
Río Grande water use between Cochiti Lake and Elephant Butte reservoir is allocated between the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas in accordance with the provisions of a 1938 federally authorized agreement known as the Rio Grande Compact.

This compact establishes entitlements among the states, including New Mexico’s annual downstream flow obligations for southern New Mexico and Texas.

“A failure by New Mexico to meet its Río Grande Compact water delivery obligations would result in lawsuits and unbelievably expensive penalties and mitigation costs,” said Elaine Hebard, former Board member of the Water Assembly.

At the end of March each year, the three states get together, agree on the past year's final water delivery accounting, and project what the current year water deliveries will look like given forecasts for water resources in the Río Grande watershed.

Since 2006, the Middle Río Grande Water Assembly has sponsored a free public forum to discuss water delivery within the limitations of the Río Grande Compact.

“Holding a forum in April allows the public to learn about the results of the March meeting as well as become better informed about the Río Grande Compact and its effect upon us,” said Bob Wessely, Vice President of the Water Assembly.

The forum covers such issues as:
· What are our rights and obligations under the Río Grande Compact?
· How well has New Mexico met its obligations in the past?
· How well did we perform in 2008?
· What are the expectations for delivery in 2009?
· What does the future look given expectations of climate change impacts, population growth, and other impacts to our water supply?

Presentations from past forums can be found – along with the Regional Water Plan – on the Water Assembly web site (WaterAssembly.org).

*The Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly is an all volunteer non-profit organization that was established in 1997 to provide broad-based independent advice for water planning in the region. The Water Assembly was the prime participant in organizing and conducting the open and inclusive public process that led to the Regional Water Plan.

The Water Resources Program offers the Master of Water Resources (MWR) degree, an interdisciplinary professional degree designed to prepare students for careers in water resources management and related fields. The University of New Mexico’s location in the Southwestern USA means that there is a natural emphasis on dry-region water issues; however, the MWR degree is designed to provide its students a firm grounding in water resources that is applicable throughout the world."

Views: 54

Comment by SweetCaroline on April 11, 2009 at 4:24pm
How many know that V. B. Price, our local Writer, is the son of the late, great, Vincent Price?
Comment by cc on April 11, 2009 at 8:51pm
@ Ben - it's nice to hear the efficient storage idea fleshed out a bit, thanks.

@ Caroline, Melissa, Ben - I enjoyed Price's book Albuquerque: City at the End of the World.
Comment by JMG on April 12, 2009 at 1:09am
V.B.'s article is right-on. Why are we still pussy footing around this issue? I wonder when farming in the south will be finally considered a lower priority than Albuquerque's thirst. I worry about where the population of Juarez will get its drinking water. And I'm curious about the Pueblo tribes along the river putting in golf courses and seemingly having no limits on the water they can use because of the treaties. Have any Western cities just decided to halt expansion because of water? I wish I knew more about all of this.
Comment by cc on April 12, 2009 at 8:09am
So, I realize late in the game here that Price's article talks about a DIFFERENT compact we have - the Colorado River one. It's the one related to the San Juan/Chama Diversion - water storage in Heron Lake and Abiquiu Reservoir - that Albuquerque got into a decade earlier than the Rio Grande one - 1920's instead of 1930's.

It will be a good question to ask at the Forum how they distinguish between the two when it comes to measurement.
Comment by cc on April 12, 2009 at 8:12am
And I know that both reservoirs above mentioned weren't constructed til mid century, and probably ABQ's big share of it started then too. But from info in Price's article, seems that the actual drawing up of how Colorado River water would be shared was done back in the 20's.
Comment by Lee on April 13, 2009 at 5:51am
Halting expansion is a tricky concept on a great many levels....Not saying it's a bad one, but it would be interesting to see a discussion of what that might entail just to see some of the issues surrounding it

I have nothing against golfers... but it seems like the idea of a large expanse of lush green grass in the desert is just a wacky idea... yet this area has 4 or 5 of them. I suspect golfers will see this differently... but do we really need these ?
Comment by Athena_Sword on April 13, 2009 at 10:29am
In terms of escalating water use, I think it's time to slay some sacred cows. If you want to understand what an acre foot looks like, check out an irrigated alfalfa field or a North Valley estate irrigated a foot deep with ducks paddling on it like a lake--the latter to make a nice lush pasture for a couple of Arabian horses. "Agriculture" in New Mexico is mostly about growing food for livestock. This type of "agriculture" is relatively easy and cheap--and highly water wasteful. Laser level some land, spread out some seed, flood every week or so and in a couple months hire somebody to harvest and bale. I'm not some raving vegetarian with an anti-meat agenda. It's just plain wasteful in a desert state to continue to use flood irrigation--for anything. The other aspect that makes flood irrigation a sacred cow is that it is a "tradition" so anybody that dares suggest that it's as wasteful as watering a golf course or a Kentucky blue grass lawn is vilified as somebody who disrespects people who have been here for centuries.
Comment by cc on April 13, 2009 at 11:27am
Good point, Athena, about water that is wasted through flooding fields.

Though, there are some other reasons given for benefits of irrigating:
-all that water goes back into the ground water.
-the support to plants/tree cover is important in the valley that has had the naturally-occurring annual flooding taken away.
-in certain areas, flood irrigation is used for farming of food crops for humans.

Maybe there are other ways flooding is beneficial.
Comment by Estrella Smith on April 14, 2009 at 11:28pm
From past experience, the Rio Grande Compact Forum is a great place to learn about an important constraint on our water use. And to ask your questions. (By the way, measurement of "native river flow" is made at the Otowi Gauge, which is a key point in the Rio Grande Compact. The San Juan water is tracked from beginning to end -- measured as it comes through the tunnels, into the Chama River and downstream - http://www.usbr.gov/uc/albuq/water/index.html.) If the Water Utility Authority is going to supply 90% of water uses with San Juan Chama water, then knowing something about the Colorado Compact might be needed!)

In addition to the information posted about the Regional Water Plan by CC, check out Chapter 10, Recommendations -- beginning with 10.1.2 Urgent Shortfall Reality (http://www.waterassembly.org/archives/MRG-Plan/D-Rio%20Grande%20Plan/CH10-Recommendations.pdf). Recommendation 10.2.7, Water Storage to Reduce Evaporative Losses, includes a recommendation to store water at higher elevations (less evaporation). [The Utton Center did a Symposium on Rio Grande Reservoirs (http://uttoncenter.unm.edu/Reservoir_Symposium.html). An unbelievable array of issues and jurisdictions make changes difficult.] A survey of what residents felt was important, water-wise, was done by UNM and can be found at http://www.unm.edu/~instpp/e_hold/MRG_Water_Issues.pdf.

Given the water deficit between supply and renewable demand --mostly caused by well pumping-- has continued for well over ten years, it will take decades to even out the depletions from the river right now trying to recharge the aquifer. Aquifer storage (another recommendation in the Plan) is being done on a trial basis by the Water Utility Authority in the Oso Arroyo (Bear Canyon Recharge Demonstration Project, http://www.abcwua.org/content/view/372/378/.)

Aquifer storage is happening already by, you guessed it, those alfalfa irrigators, and irrigation ditches among others. As CC mentioned, we get other values from those open spaces. An analysis of protecting such fields versus constructing recharge projects might yield some interesting results!

By the way, three of the State Water Plan Update meetings, held throughout the state, will be in our three county area beginning next week. More information is at the end of this note. On June 13, the Annual Assembly will, as always, discuss a contentious topic. This year's is reported to be Supplying Water for a Growing Population - What Will It Cost You?. (The information about it will soon be updated on the web site.) The annual meeting is also the time for adding new members to the five advocacy groups which make up the Assembly.



The State Water Plan Act requires that the plan be reviewed, updated, and amended in response to changing conditions. At a minimum, a review should take place every five years. The Interstate Stream Commission and the Office of the State Engineer, along with other state agencies, prepared a review document that was published in June 2008. Based on this review, the agencies will begin the update process, which will include public meetings around the state and other opportunities for public input. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Documents can be found on web site - http://www.ose.state.nm.us/publications_state_water_plans.html


The public is invited to attend:

We could use your perspective.

State Water Plan Update Public Meetings
for Region #12 - Middle Rio Grande

Tuesday, April 21 6:30-8:30 pm
Town Council Chambers

Thursday, May 7 6:30-8:30 pm
UNM Continuing Education
1634 University Blvd NE, Albuquerque

Tuesday, May 12 6:30-8:30 pm
Transportation Center Community Room
751 Juan Perea Rd SE, Los Lunas

The Interstate Stream Commission invites you to provide input for the State Water Plan Update on the following water resource management issues:

• population growth / water demand
• conservation
• climate variability
• water projects needed in your region

For more information call (505) 764-3864 or visit the Office of the State Engineer/ Interstate Stream Commission website at www.ose.state.nm.us, “Hot Topics” “State Water Plan Update”
Comment by cc on April 15, 2009 at 6:34am
Gosh, Estrella, this is so helpful! Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge here on DCF with us. It will be great to take more time to let it all 'sink in.'

I wonder if the "well pumping" from your sentence below means folks that draw irrigation water from their old drinking water wells - or is it individual industrial well holders like Intel?
"Given the water deficit between supply and renewable demand --mostly caused by well pumping"


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