Rio Grande: Special master’s report, “indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment” — Laura Paskus

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full
Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From NMPoliticalReport (Laura Paskus):

When the special master’s 351-page final report arrived this week, it didn’t vary much from the draft this summer, in which Gregory Grimsal delivered some grim messages to New Mexico.

The exhaustively-researched report details the history of water agreements and disputes along the lower Rio Grande and indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment.

Anticipating that the case would be moving forward, earlier this year New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced a new joint defense strategy with the state’s two water agencies, the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.

The Attorney General’s office was unable to accommodate an interview this week about the new strategy, but office spokesman James Hallinan issued an email statement to NM Political Report.

“Attorney General Balderas is committed to seeking the best result for New Mexico in the decades-long water litigation he inherited from his predecessors, and will work with the joint defense team he formed with New Mexico’s Lower Rio Grande water users and the Office of the State Engineer throughout the legal process,” Hallinan said. “Attorney General Balderas knows that water is the lifeblood of New Mexico’s unique economy and culture, and now that the court has ruled on the preliminary filings, he can push forward his targeted, technical, data-driven strategy towards the most favorable resolution for New Mexico.”

NM Political Report repeatedly requested to speak with someone from the Office of the State Engineer, which is responsible for groundwater permits, or the Interstate Stream Commission, the agency authorized under state law to negotiate compact disputes.

None of those phone calls or emails were returned.

According to Balderas’ office, the three state agencies will work together and also enter into joint defense agreements with New Mexico State University, PNM, the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association, the City of Las Cruces and Camino Real Regional Utility Authority.

One entity from the state absent from the list is the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which sits below the dam in New Mexico, but in the legal world of western water, is considered a part of Texas.

‘No man’s land”

In southern New Mexico today, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District delivers water to about 60,000 acres of fields of crops like pecans, chile and onions.

The district covers more than 90,000 acres, but due to a lingering drought, some of those lands are fallow.

“These are family farms, people who are good stewards of the land,” EBID manager Gary Esslinger told NM Political Report. “It’s a different type of atmosphere here compared with large corporate farms in California that are owned by a bank or an insurance company.”

The irrigation district is different in other ways, too.

To know why, it takes understanding the 1938 Rio Grande Compact and how it divvies up the river’s water among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Annually, New Mexico’s fair share from Colorado is based on streamgage measurements near the state line.

Sending Texas its water is trickier. That’s because New Mexico delivers that water to a reservoir 90 miles north of the state line.

Built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over 100 years ago, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water for what’s called the Rio Grande Project—water the federal government must deliver to farmers in New Mexico and Texas, downstream cities, and Mexico.

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