Lawmakers in New Mexico expressed concern on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, about the unresolved conflict between the state and neighboring Texas over the management of the Rio Grande, one of the longest rivers in North America. Officials stressed that making farmland barren as a temporary solution would not be a sustainable approach to ensuring Texas gets its allotted share of water. The warning comes amid ongoing negotiations between the two states and highlights the need for a comprehensive solution to the long-standing problem.
A federal judge has recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court approve a settlement between three Western states over the management of one of North America’s longest rivers.
U.S. circuit judge Michael Melloy, the special master overseeing the case, outlined his recommendation in a report filed Monday. He called the proposal fair, reasonable and consistent with a decades-long water-sharing agreement that spells out how Colorado, New Mexico and Texas should share the Rio Grande.
It was unclear when the Supreme Court will adopt the recommendation. The court concluded a busy term last week, ruling on affirmative action, gay rights and President Joe Biden’s $400 billion plan to cancel or reduce federal student debt.
The states reached the proposed settlement last year. The federal government objected for several reasons, including the fact that the proposal did not place any specific restrictions on New Mexico’s collection or use of water.
“Today’s end result may be a delay in the final resolution of all concerns of the United States. But as a matter of paramount importance to the pact, the Texas partition and treaty water will be delivered,” Melloy wrote in his report. .
TEXAS DPS REPEATS FOUR BODIES, INCLUDING INFANT, FROM RIO GRANDE IN EAGLE PASS IN 48 HOURS: SPOKESPOUCHER
New Mexico officials have said implementation of the scheme would require reducing Rio Grande water use through a combination of efforts ranging from paying farmers to make their fields barren to making infrastructure improvements.
Former New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office was part of the negotiations, told The Associated Press on Wednesday he was grateful the judge recommended approval.
Balderas, who ended his term in 2022, said the proposed settlement was “a historic victory for New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers and will protect New Mexico’s most precious resource for generations to come.”
Some New Mexico lawmakers expressed concern at a recent legislative session, saying the settlement will create a battle between users in southern and northern New Mexico and most farmers will not go for the prices offered by the state through a fallow program.
Farmers in southern New Mexico have relied more on groundwater wells for the past two decades as drought and climate change resulted in reduced flows and less water in reservoirs along the Rio Grande. That groundwater pumping was what prompted Texas to sue, claiming that the practice reduced the amount of water ultimately delivered as part of the interstate compact.
The dry riverbed of the Rio Grande is seen from the air on July 26, 2022 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (AP photo / Brittany Peterson, file)
Melloy noted that the proposal recognizes the new use of a metering station near El Paso, Texas, and several other metering to ensure that New Mexico delivers what Texas owes. New Mexico agrees to drop its challenges against Texas in exchange for clarification on how water will be accounted for as it flows downstream.
The proposal also places a duty on New Mexico to manage citizens’ water use to meet supply requirements at the new metering station. Melloy pointed out that the proposal does not specify how New Mexico is to achieve its internal water management goals.
State engineer Mike Hamman, New Mexico’s top water manager, said Wednesday that his office is committed to complying with the settlement and pact “through water rights management, depletion management and supply augmentation strategies that will prevent the burden of compliance on a single sector, namely agriculture.”
If New Mexico doesn’t send enough water to Texas, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District — the largest in New Mexico — will have to temporarily transfer rights to a Texas irrigation district. If Texas receives too much, there would be a similar transfer from the El Paso district to the Elephant Butte district.
Melloy said there is nothing in the proposal that protects New Mexico or users in the state from future claims by the federal Bureau of Reclamation or other New Mexicans.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
“Simply put, if usable water arrives at the reservoir, is released for use downstream and reaches Texas and Mexico in the right amounts,” Melloy wrote, “fighting over who in New Mexico takes too much and pays too little (and whether New Mexico does enough on its own to handle and monitor the situation) can be resolved somewhere other than the Supreme Court.”