Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
It’s going to be a long, hot summer, and water-stressed communities across New Mexico are feeling the heat.
Water managers from around the state and several federal agencies gathered in Albuquerque on Thursday to discuss drought and water resilience.
Tanya Trujillo, the U.S. Interior Department assistant secretary for water and science, said her agency is working to offer immediate relief for large water systems in the Colorado and Rio Grande basins, but also long-term resources for individual communities.
“There’s no doubt that the conditions this year have been more drastic than we anticipated,” said Trujillo, a former New Mexico Interstate Stream commissioner who now oversees the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey. “Climate change effects are playing out through droughts and water supply concerns around the West.”
The Bureau of Reclamation announced this week a $15 million drought relief distribution to Klamath Basin irrigators in Oregon and California.
New Mexico has also requested federal drought funds.
Congress is considering an infrastructure package that could fund state reservoir storage and irrigation efficiency projects.
Trujillo said federal programs can help “fill the gaps” for municipalities, farmers and ranchers.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” she said. “USDA has some funding that they can provide before and after drought, and we have some that we can fill in in the middle.”
Thursday’s meeting was a rare gathering of state lawmakers, tribes, environmental groups, municipalities and irrigation districts that are sometimes at odds on water issues.
“We’re all in the same boat,” State Engineer John D’Antonio said. “We all need to be working in the same direction.”
For Mike Hamman, chief engineer and CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, bringing varied interests to the table is necessary to alert federal officials to the reality of extreme drought.
“We’ve long been aware of this problem of California and the Colorado River getting all the national press and attention,” Hamman said. “And we were worried that as usual New Mexico was going to be in the backseat.”
Some groups presented Trujillo with a wishlist of infrastructure projects that need federal funding.
Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s list included a $42 million pipe system to reduce irrigation losses.
Phil King, an engineering consultant for EBID, said that forecasts of less reliable water supplies mean that future projects will need to benefit multiple regions.
“The fact is, we are dealing with a permanent shift towards a more arid climate with less water to move around and to effectively administer,” King said. “Some people are going to have to hear things that they don’t want to hear.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.