Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that we can expect to see a pilot “water leasing” program in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District by 2014. Water leasing involves voluntary transactions between water rights holders and water buyers, often to compensate farmers to free up water to be left in streams and rivers for environmental flows.
The exchange, with Sen. Martin Heinrich, came during a confirmation hearing – Connor’s been nominated to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Conner called water leasing “absolutely one of the most critical tools” for 21st century western water management. Here’s the full exchange:
Here’s some background on water leasing in New Mexico from a story I wrote earlier this summer:
There are also conversations underway about a similar program in the farm water system between Cochiti Reservoir and Socorro managed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, though early discussions suggest it will not be easy.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., included language in the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill urging the Bureau of Reclamation to explore setting up a program under which conservancy district farmers could be paid to take land out of production during dry years, with the irrigation water they would have used left in the Rio Grande. As a first step, Udall’s legislation calls for a water metering program for conservancy district farmers. Currently, individual farmers’ water use is not measured.