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Rio Grande Compact states juggle reponsibilities

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico, Texas and Colorado often disagree when it comes to water issues.

But, at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Rio Grande Compact Commission, representatives from each state agreed on at least one thing: this water year has been difficult for endangered species restoration and interstate water deliveries.

Rio Grande silvery minnow populations “bounced back somewhat” in 2019 after a dry 2018, said John D’Antonio, New Mexico’s state engineer and Rio Grande Compact commissioner.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife surveys in fall 2019 showed densities of 3.41 silvery minnow per 100 square meters of the river, up from 0.09 silvery minnow per 100 square meters in 2018.

Spawning habitat for the endangered fish was buoyed by a healthy spring runoff last year.

But an extremely dry 2020 means that minnow populations measured this fall will likely look more like they did in 2018.

“We are facing water shortages in every basin in the state of New Mexico,” D’Antonio said. “It’s an extremely poor water year. It’s like a yo-yo from 2018 to 2019 to 2020.”

Fish and Wildlife uses minnow density to help gauge how regional water managers are meeting Endangered Species Act obligations in the Middle Rio Grande.

Nearly all of New Mexico is experiencing severe drought. Colorado and Texas counties along the Rio Grande are also in severe drought.

Pat Gordon, Texas’s Compact commissioner, questioned how evaporation loss data for the San Juan-Chama Project fits into New Mexico’s delivery quota of Rio Grande water.

The project routes Colorado River water into the Rio Grande. It is a major source of water for New Mexico municipalities and agriculture, especially when the Rio Grande is barely flowing at the Colorado-New Mexico state line.

“We still have some concern about how that calculation works,” Gordon said.

The states are eyeing groundwater levels and well water use as rivers and streams have dwindled to a trickle this year, said Kevin Rein, director of Colorado’s Water Resources Division and the Compact commissioner for Colorado.

In Colorado areas where water is scarce, groundwater users must offset depletions to streams.

That helps ensure that Colorado meets delivery obligations to New Mexico and sustains aquifer levels “in the face of difficult climatic conditions,” Rein said.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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