#NewMexico funds could help revamp management of #RioGrande — The Associated Press

Elephant Butte Dam is filled by the Rio Grande and sustains agriculture in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico.
Sarah Tory

From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan):

New Mexico lawmakers are considering setting aside $20 million that could be used as seed money as water managers, municipalities and farmers scramble to find ways to reduce groundwater pumping that is at the center of a high-stakes legal battle.

The fight over the Rio Grande has pitted Texas against New Mexico as demands increase and drought persists. It will be up to a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually decide how New Mexico goes about ensuring enough of the Rio Grande flows south to users in Texas and Mexico.

Right now, the system is out of balance, and Texas is arguing that New Mexico should be forced to reduce its pumping by as much as 60%. That would be equivalent to more than half of the water supplied annually to residents in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city.

Such a reduction would be disastrous for users in southern New Mexico, says John D’Antonio, New Mexico’s top water engineer…

The seed money would be used over three years for a combination of projects, from paying farmers to voluntarily fallow their land at certain times to efforts aimed at recharging the aquifer connected to the river. Other initiatives could involve importing more water…

About 85% of the water being pumped along the lower Rio Grande goes to irrigate the nation’s most productive pecan orchards, chile and onion fields and other crops. The city of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University and electric utility Public Service Co. of New Mexico are among other major users. They have proposed paying into a fund that could be used for rotational fallowing and other efforts to address problems along the river…

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District already has been looking at everything from stormwater capture to desalination of brackish groundwater and temporarily fallowing. But officials there agree with D’Antonio, saying the agriculture community alone cannot bear the full burden…

… some advocates say New Mexico lawmakers need to boost funding for the state’s water management agencies to improve planning, collect more data and ensure the state doesn’t violate its compact delivery obligations. They point to a high vacancy rate within the state engineer’s office, saying more workers are needed to deal with a backlog of water rights cases, for example.

D’Antonio said he’s trying to rebuild his agency following nearly a decade of austere state budgets and is hopeful the Legislature understands the importance of securing New Mexico’s water resources moving forward.

“My feeling is there’s not a more important issue for an arid state like New Mexico than its water issues,” he said. “You start and stop with water. If you don’t have water, it really puts a kibosh on everything else that we do from an economic standpoint.”

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