New Mexico is not water-secure.
Two weeks ago, the Rio Grande dried for 17 miles south of Albuquerque pushing native fish and wildlife further towards the brink of extinction. The Rio Grande does not dry up on its own. The culprit is us.
New Mexico is the most water-stressed state in America. Despite this fact, water managers continue to sink us deeper into a water deficit rather than working to sustain our rivers and aquifers, our communities, and the biodiversity of the state.
New data from the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that in New Mexico we use 95% of our available water. The data doesn’t even consider that our rivers lack a right to their own water to sustain fish and wildlife and communities throughout the state.
The Bureau of Reclamation predicts that by 2100, the Rio Grande, our major surface water source, will have 30-50% less water. Part of this is due to rising temperatures from climate change that increase evaporation rates, reducing supply and inflating demand. It is also due to the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement that allocates water between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and in low-water years like 2018 enables Colorado to use all the water from the Rio Grande, leaving nothing for New Mexicans.
In areas like the middle Rio Grande in central New Mexico, where water managers already over-burden the river, there will be a water deficit nearly half the time, meaning the Rio Grande will be dry more often, and there will be less water to go around. Based on Reclamation’s predictions and the WRI data, by the end of the century, our demand for water will likely be 35-90% beyond the quantity of water that exists in the region.
Today, three-quarters of our water in New Mexico is used for agriculture, much of which is used for industrial beef and dairy production. One pound of beef requires as much as 1,800 gallons of water for production, and our current water situation suggests that we may not be able to support industry going forward. For a century, water policy and managers ignored the obvious problem – water overuse – and the obvious solution – water conservation. Now, climate change is heightening water stress, and unless we act quickly, we will suffer consequences like dry wells, dead rivers, water wars, and economic losses.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made a campaign promise to make water management a priority based on three principles: stewardship, sustainability and equity. With environmental leadership from her office, we finally have an opportunity to address New Mexico’s lack of water security. She wields power to institute important changes we need to improve the outlook for our state. Almost a year into her administration, we call on her to fulfill those promises.
Every water policy, rule, and regulation should be laser-focused on the governor’s stated goals of stewardship, sustainability, and equity. We need to use less and conserve water everywhere in the industrial, public and agricultural sectors. Everyone in the state must have access to clean water. Tribal nations must have water sovereignty. Water planning must include sound strategies to create water security and support the environment, including living rivers and healthy aquifers.
Given the circumstances, time is as precious as water. We need bold action, and we need to let Gov. Lujan Grisham know that New Mexicans care about a water-secure future. The best way to do that is to write the governor a letter or call her office and ask her to prioritize water-wise policies that will be good for all New Mexicans and the environment.
Galen Hecht, of Santa Fe, grew up in northern New Mexico and works as Rio Grande campaigner with WildEarth Guardians.