Udall, Heinrich Announce USDA Grants to Support Acequia Associations & Traditional Communities, Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and Tribal Communities

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Here’s the release from Senator Tom Udall’s office:

Nearly $525,000 in grants come from USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers & Ranchers Program

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced three grants totaling nearly $525,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to benefit New Mexico’s traditional communities and acequia associations, Hispanic farmers and ranchers, and tribal agricultural communities in the state. The grants were made through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, which Udall and Heinrich have long supported to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters in New Mexico and across the country who have historically experienced limited access to USDA loans, grants, training, and technical assistance.

“New Mexico’s traditional communities have been stewards of our state’s water and land for generations, and this new funding will support acequia farmers and ranchers as they continue to manage our resources for generations to come. These grants will empower farmers and ranchers from Hispanic and tribal communities across New Mexico to continue producing for our state and the nation,” said Udall. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked hard to preserve the Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers & Ranchers Program and to secure additional funding for these grants – because this program provides essential support to the farmers and ranchers who help make New Mexico strong, but who too often are overlooked or left behind when it comes to federal assistance. I look forward to working with our land grants, acequias, and other traditional New Mexico farming communities to build on this progress.”

“Our farmers help drive New Mexico’s economy, especially in rural communities,” said Heinrich. “Acequia users, land grants, and tribal communities have cultivated land in New Mexico for centuries. I will continue fighting for New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers so they can continue our state’s long tradition in agriculture and promote long-term, sustainable use of our land and water.”

The USDA grants announced by Udall and Heinrich include:

Support for New Mexico Acequias and Traditional Communities: Udall and Heinrich announced a $135,964 grant for the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) for the New Mexico Acequia Farmer and Rancher Education Project, to strengthen the agricultural operations of the farmers and ranchers who use acequias or community ditches in New Mexico. According to USDA, “through a statewide membership network, NMAA will provide education and technical assistance to improve agricultural operations through irrigation efficiency, to train new and beginning farmers and youth, and to increase participation in USDA programs. NMAA will work with organizational and agency partners to ensure farmers, ranchers, and acequias meet eligibility requirements for USDA programs and to assist with USDA applications which will benefit over 300 producers. NMAA will also provide education and training through workshops and demonstration sites for new and beginning farmers and youth benefiting over 150 participants.”

Support for Native farmers and ranchers from New Mexico tribes and pueblos: Udall and Heinrich announced two grants totaling $388,492 to benefit farmers and ranchers from tribal and pueblo communities. One grant will help expand access for Northern New Mexico pueblos to key USDA programs to benefit the ownership, operation, and profitability of family farms and ranches for pueblo farmers and ranchers. The second grant will help fund agricultural workshops, training, resources, and free consultations for farmers and ranchers on the Navajo Nation.

More information can be found here.

“The days of water abundance are gone” — Jen Pelz

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andy Stiny):

The Santa Fe-based organization [Wild Earth Guardians] filed notice that it wants the New Mexico Court of Appeals to review a district judge’s refusal to force the Office of the State Engineer to prove that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is entitled to water it uses under permit.

“The appeal looks to compel the State Engineer to require the District actually prove it has used the large quantity of water it claimed upon receiving its permits from the State in 1925,” WildEarth Guardians said in a news release. “Despite the clear mandate under its permits, the District has long avoided confirming its use with the hope of continuing to control and divert the entire flow over the river in perpetuity.”

The district’s diversion of water from the Rio Grande for hundreds of farmers has been a source of contention, especially in dry years when the riverbed has gone mostly dry below the Albuquerque area, threatening the survival of species such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow…

“The days of water abundance are gone,” Jen Pelz of WildEarth Guardians said in a statement. “The reality of these times demands that the basic limitations on water use are met. Our litigation seeks just that, to enforce key provisions of state water law to safeguard and conserve water for our rivers.”

From the methane rule to conservation funding lapses, #NewMexico bears the brunt of D.C.’s #environment decisions — New Mexico Political Report #ActOnClimate

West Drought Monitor October 2, 2018.

Here’s a deep-dive into current administration environmental policies and the effects in New Mexico from Laura Paskus writing for the New Mexico Political Report. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’

At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse. First authorized by Congress in 1964, the fund directs revenue from oil and gas drilling toward projects that conserve land and water. The idea is that as the nation depletes some natural resources, it conserves others. And the money is used for all sorts of projects in national parks and forests, state and local parks and also for drinking water and water quality projects across the country. For decades, the fund enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. (Probably because states and local governments all benefit from the fund.) But this year? Congress couldn’t agree on its reauthorization and let the fund die.

In New Mexico, the fund has invested more than $300 million, said U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat. The failure of Congress to reauthorize it will hurt tourism and the outdoor recreation economy, he said, and leave important conservation projects in limbo.

And this is part of a trend. Congressional Republicans continue to wage attacks on bedrock environmental laws such as Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act of 1906, while the White House directs federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior to weaken public health protections and prioritize energy development over other uses of public lands.

“The administration’s attack on public lands—from rolling back monuments which are sacred to pueblos and tribes in New Mexico, to leasing oil and gas near Chaco Canyon without public input or tribal consultation—will do irreparable damage to our most treasured open spaces and breathtaking natural landscapes,” Udall said. “Taken together, all these actions threaten our economy, our landscape, our health—and our way of life in the West.”

Udall also said New Mexico is on the “frontlines in the fight against climate.”

“In recent years, New Mexico has had a front row seat to the damage inflicted by anti-environment policies: We’ve seen more severe droughts, reduced snowpack, raging wildfires, and hotter temperatures devastate our way of life,” Udall said. “The administration’s policies undermining our efforts to fight climate change will disproportionately affect rural, border and Native communities that are particularly vulnerable to the impact these changes will have on water resources, agriculture, air pollution and public health.”

Despite mocking the idea of climate change, and referring to it as a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese government, Trump’s own administration recently acknowledged climate change.

To justify the president’s decision to halt federal fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, a draft environmental impact statement acknowledges human-caused climate change and its inevitable impacts. As reported by the Washington Post, “The document projects that global temperature will rise by nearly 3.5 degrees Celsius above the average temperature between 1986 and 2005 regardless of whether Obama-era tailpipe standards take effect or are frozen for six years, as the Trump administration has proposed.”

In other words, the impacts of climate change, and a seven degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, are inevitable. Trying to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is irrelevant.

Climate change is the “greatest threat our nation and world now confront,” Udall said, and the “moral test of our age.”

“The fact that those in positions of power understand that climate change is occurring yet refuse to take action is an absolute disgrace,” Udall said. “They have placed extreme ideology and profit over scientific evidence, sacrificing the well-being of current and future generations in the process.” He called the emissions standards issue “especially baffling,” given that most of the auto industry doesn’t support the rollbacks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Southwest is among the regions of the world warming most quickly. And that is already affecting water resources.

More Than #ClimateChange Threatens Iconic Rio Grande — Wild Earth Guardians

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Jen Pelz):

As temperatures in Albuquerque climb to triple digits, the Rio Grande’s flows continue to recede leaving vast islands and sandy channels where the mighty river once roamed. The contrast between conditions this year and last year is stark.

In 2017, the April forecast for the Rio Grande at the Otowi Gauge was 128 percent of average; this year it is 20. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s maps by Brian Fuchs show New Mexico going from only about a quarter of the state in abnormally or moderately dry conditions in June of 2017 to the majority of the state in extreme or exceptional drought this year.

West Drought Monitor September 25, 2018.

These conditions are driving the early low flows in the Basin, but are not the sole cause of the crisis as seems to be the nationwide narrative.

“Climate change is exposing cracks in western water policy and is shining a spotlight on the unsustainable allocation of water from our rivers and streams,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The emerging disaster on the Rio Grande this year comes from archaic water policies, lack of accountability by the states, and water managers acting like its business as usual despite the dire stream flow conditions.”

Three main flaws in water policy and enforcement are driving the situation this year. First, the Rio Grande Compact—an agreement between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas that sought in 1938 to equitably allocate the waters of the Rio Grande between the states–is operating in dry years to magnify the climate changed induced flow declines. When flows are above average (128 percent), like in 2017, Colorado’s delivery obligations to downstream states roughly mimic the flows at the index gauge.

However, when flows cease to reach a threshold of about 4,000 cubic feet per second, the delivery obligation of Colorado ceases entirely meaning Colorado water users can take every last drop and be entirely within the terms of the compact.

The Rio Grande Compact, like other western water agreements, is based on data from an unrepresentative wet period in the historical record; therefore, the allocation system is far from equitable.

Second, the State of New Mexico provides no leadership or accountability to ensure water users in the state are only using what they need. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, for example, requested a permit in 1925 to irrigate over 100,000 acres in the Middle Rio Grande valley from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Dam. The District, however, has not (90 years later) ever proven that it has irrigated the acreage contemplated in the permit, nor that it needs the water it has claimed. This is a fundamental requirement under the New Mexico Constitution that is being blatantly disregarded.

Finally, the District—the entity that delivers water to farmers in the Middle Rio Grande—just last week finally limited its diversions to the more senior users. Despite anticipated flows of 20 percent of average, the District provided water to the most junior users—those that do not have any claim to water—from March 1 to June 12 (104 days).

“These institutional agreements and policies not only threaten the health of the river, but also put the most senior users’ ability to irrigate to the end of the season at risk,” added Pelz. “The wild west days are over and climate change is exposing these flawed choices. It’s time to find a new sustainable path forward.”

WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Our Rio Grande: America’s Great River campaign seeks to provide the Rio Grande with a right to its own water and to reform western water policy for a sustainable future for this icon.

As warming strains #NM’s water supplies, ‘status quo’ no longer works — New Mexico Political Report #RioGrande

Historical storage Elephant Butte Reservoir as of September 26, 2018 via Water Data for Texas.

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

The Rio Grande Compact, which divides water among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas was signed in 1938. And New Mexico’s water laws today are still based on codes that the territorial legislature passed in 1907.

But as the climate changes and warmer temperatures affect the state’s rivers, reservoirs and aquifers, the same tactics and strategies that may have helped New Mexicans weather dry times over the past century won’t keep working. And perhaps no place in the state offers such a stark reminder of that fact than the reservoir behind this dam. After a dry winter and hardly any snowmelt this spring, Elephant Butte Reservoir is at three percent capacity, storing 58,906 acre feet of water as of September 24.

Historically, people tend to listen to what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear: What they need to hear is that our laws do not reflect hydrology and our hydrology is changing for the worse, and if we do not manage it, it will manage itself,” says Phil King, an expert on hydrology and the relationship between surface and ground water in southern New Mexico. “I would much rather correct the system ourselves through management than let nature do it’s cold, hard reality fix,” adds King, a professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University and a consultant to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, or EBID.

Stopping the ‘death spiral’

EBID serves about 8,000 farmers in the Rincon and Mesilla valleys in southern New Mexico, from Arrey to the border town of Santa Teresa. If you’ve eaten chile from Hatch or pecans from Mesilla, fed alfalfa to your horses or poured milk from a New Mexico dairy into your coffee, you’ve consumed water that EBID’s farmers divert from the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte or pump from the aquifer.

For roughly a century, EBID farmers have supplemented irrigation water with groundwater. Without it, they would not have survived the drought of the 1950s. But they pumped during the wet years, too, including throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Then, beginning around 2003, about four years into the Southwest’s current drought period, pumping ramped up even more.

That’s a problem, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, where river water recharges the groundwater, and pumping water from the aquifer makes it even thirstier for river water.

With both the surface water and the groundwater strained, the system suffers a double-whammy, King says. That causes a positive feedback or what King calls a “death spiral.”

Even though scientists, engineers, hydrologists and farmers know the two are intertwined within the same system, in New Mexico, groundwater and surface water are managed separately. King calls that “hydrological folly.”

“We’ve got some major rethinking to do with New Mexico water law: Status quo is not an option,” he says. “I think what people need to understand is we are facing conditions that mankind has not faced here before.”

And the only way to reverse that death spiral is to use less water.

The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR

Storage got #NM through this season but everyone knows we need a good snow year for a change

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

Right now, New Mexico’s largest reservoir is at about three percent capacity, with just 62,573 acre feet of water in storage as of September 20.

Elephant Butte Reservoir’s low levels offer a glimpse of the past, as well as insight into the future. Over the past few decades, southwestern states like New Mexico have on average experienced warmer temperatures, earlier springs and less snowpack in the mountains. And it’s a trend that’s predicted to continue.

“There was no spring runoff this year. We started this year at basically the point we left off at last year,” says Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Elephant Butte Dam, just north of the town of Truth or Consequences. The federal agency runs the Rio Grande Project, which stores water that legally must be delivered downstream to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the state of Texas and Mexico.

Drought has moved around the U.S. Southwest since the late 1990s, and last winter’s dismal snowpack broke records in the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Without runoff this spring, by February reservoir levels around the state—including at Elephant Butte—were as high as they were going to be this year. “We had some help from the monsoons,” Carlson says, “but not as much as we wanted, where we wanted.”

Many spots around New Mexico reveal signs of drought and climate change, whether it’s the puny flows of the Rio Grande, the fire-ravaged forests of the Jemez Mountains or the crispy rangelands of the northeast. But Elephant Butte Reservoir offers perhaps the starkest reminder that keeping up with the changing climate may require questioning long-held ideas of how water is managed and shared, how we think about rivers and reservoirs and even, who we consider our friends or foes.

Farmers ‘dealing with La Nada’

For farmers in southern New Mexico, this year “really stung,” says Gary Esslinger, manager of Elephant Butte Irrigation District, or EBID. This year, he explains, less than 45,000 acre-feet of water flowed via the Rio Grande into Elephant Butte. That’s the lowest recorded inflow since the dam was built in the early 20th century.

“There was virtually no snowpack runoff, and whatever there was didn’t get to Elephant Butte,” he says. “The Middle Rio Grande, that river was drying up way too early.”

Beginning in early April, when the state’s largest river is usually running high with snowmelt, it began to dry south of Socorro and upstream of the reservoir…

Watching the reservoir empty out this year makes farmers feel like they are running out of water, he says. At the same time, they’re uncertain about how long their groundwater supplies will last, even though the district tries to monitor groundwater levels and has hired a full-time groundwater specialist.

“We’re not cratering; it’s not Doomsville yet,” he says. “But we’ve got to find another source.” People can pray for rain and snow, he says, but the challenge is finding a long-term, consistent water source. And western states, including New Mexico, don’t have that.

“Everybody’s thinking, ‘Well, climate change is really happening,’ and I think we need to change the way we’re thinking. We keep looking for improvement in the West,” he says.

With improvement unlikely, Esslinger says he’s started considering more radical solutions—like whether western states could share the cost of a canal that would move water from the East, from someplace like the Mississippi River. “People think I might be crazy, but I think we should start looking at it,” he says. “I don’t think we can continue to keep playing this game of predicting and forecasting: we need to find some water and get it over here to the West.”

Farmers face other challenges, too, including the growing expense of pumping groundwater and an “insurmountable” number of regulations, he says. It’s also hard to find workers to hand-pick crops like chile and onions, thanks to changes in immigration policy.

@CWCB_DNR SWSI update in the works

The Rio Grande flowing through the Colorado town of Del Norte. Photo credit: USBR

From The Valley Courier (Judy Lopez):

In 2018, SWSI is being updated using the latest information and will it serve as the technical mainframe for the revisions of the Colorado Water Plan and the Basin Implementation Plans. SWSI 18 will provide parameters that will help plan revision teams consider a variety of scenarios based on climate variance, existing supply and demands, and population growth. This will help these teams make the revised plans, maps that truly guide Colorado and the basin’s water future.

Want to know more? Visit the Colorado Water Conservation boards website at http://cwcb.state.co.us/Pages/CWCBHome.aspx or join in the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meetings which are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa. Meetings begin at 2 pm. Also visit http://www.rgbrt.org.