Thursday, May 19, 2016

Not so Wet New Mexico’s water plans predict supply decline at the regional level but don’t tackle statewide strategy

PVWUO meets tomorrow May 20th at 9:00 Eddy County far Community Center Artesia Not so Wet New Mexico’s water plans predict supply decline at the regional level but don’t tackle statewide strategy May 18, 2016, 12:00 am By Laura Paskus People trying to survive in this arid landscape have spent thousands of years—some flush with rain and snow, others parched—hoping that the next season will allow fields and villages to survive. Or maybe even flourish. Whether it was the drought of the 12th century that contributed to migrations out of Chaco Canyon or the dry years that desiccated ranches and farms in the 1930s and ’50s, people here in New Mexico have probably always watched the skies and prayed for rain. And while tree ring data or abandoned farmsteads trace the stories of past droughts, online PDFs full of graphs, tables and planning ideas offer clues to the difficulties—or opportunities—that might lie ahead. This year, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission released 16 regional water plans. Each draft paints a localized picture of the next 40 years—how much water there may be, whether the population will rise or fall and if supplies can meet demands. Some regions are worse off than others. The economy in northeastern New Mexico hasn’t yet recovered from drought that began in 2009. In southern Curry County, people haul water in places where wells have dried. Surface water is already scarce in the northwest; now, groundwater levels are declining, too. In the past 30 years, aquifers beneath Gallup and nearby communities have dropped several hundred feet. And in many places, like the Middle and Lower Rio Grande, river waters are already over-allocated. Further downstream from the Canyon Road treatment plant, water fans out for wildlife habitat and recreation along a paved trail. Laura Paskus But even as surface and groundwater supplies in many places are projected to decline even further, no one seems sure—and the state’s not saying—how all these regional plans will fit into one comprehensive plan to envision how New Mexico might look in 2060. “Other than the fact that we have a common technical platform, I don’t think we have any idea what they’re going to do with the state water plan,” says Conci Bokum, a local expert who has long worked on regional water planning in the Santa Fe area. The state did not allow water planning staff to answer questions on the record about the plans, nor did Interstate Stream Commission Director Deborah Dixon respond to interview requests. As for how, or if, the state will incorporate the regional plans into a statewide approach, Public Information Officer Melissa Dosher wrote in an email that the planning phase has begun and will continue into 2017. CALL TO COMBINE FORCES IN SF Considering the dire data for many areas, Santa Fe is in comparatively good shape. The City Different lies within the Jemez y Sangre planning region, which includes Los Alamos County and parts of Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties. The recent planning effort involved the three counties, the cities of Santa Fe and Española, water users associations, acequia users, environmental and business groups, federal and state agencies and six pueblos. Today, about 147,000 people use more than 90,000 acre-feet of water in the region each year. Most of that water comes from the Rio Grande, the Chama and the Santa Fe River; about 20,000 acre-feet is pumped each year from underground aquifers. Farms are the biggest water users: Irrigated agriculture diverts 73 percent of the region’s entire water supply. As with all the regions, state workers and contractors wrote the bulk of the plan—supplying water information, population forecasts, and future demand scenarios—while locals suggested ideas to address the gap between future supply and demand. Many solutions center around increasing efficiency, improving infrastructure and drilling new groundwater wells. Other proposals call for restoring watershed conditions and reusing effluent water. The Jemez y Sangre region is highly vulnerable to drought, which can put surface supplies at risk. That means planning for climate change is critical. “Water has always been a big issue in our area,” says Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Holian, one of the steering committee’s four chairs. “But as climate change begins to be felt more and more—and in a variety of ways—it’s even more important for us to do planning so that we can help shield people in our communities from the effects of drought or really heavy rainstorms.” Holian hopes the public will weigh in on the draft plan, especially when it comes to a proposal to regionalize the city and county into one water utility, similar to the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The two entities worked together in the past to build the Buckman Direct Diversion Project on the Rio Grande. “It is a slightly controversial topic,” she says. “The county is open to that, but the city, as far as I can determine, is not really interested in going there at this point.” Santa Fe might also continue buying agricultural water rights and transferring them to municipal use. That’s one way to close the gap, especially since ag is the predominant water user in the area. “I myself am very interested in encouraging more local agriculture, not less,” says Holian. “So I really want to get feedback on that particular issue.” - See more at:

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