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Editorial: Time is right for regional water planning for border

Water supplies are a key factor as states like New Mexico and Texas struggle with drought and nearly empty reservoirs and at the same time try to attract new business and industry.

It’s not that the Southwest doesn’t have water. It does, in large caches underground. But much of that water is brackish, or salty. It would take tens of millions in investments to build desalination plants to make it potable.

Southern New Mexico is booming along the border with Texas and Mexico. The Santa Teresa border crossing has attracted many companies manufacturing components or providing services for the maquilas in Cuidad Juárez and the Union Pacific intermodal rail hub.

How far out should preparations begin for having enough water to sustain future growth in the region is a matter of debate. New Mexico, Texas and Mexico all draw water in that area from an underground basin called the Mesilla Bolson.

Regional water experts say the fresh water at the top of the basin could become more salty in 10 to 15 years and it would take at least that long to have a desalination plant in place.

Farmers who draw water from the Rio Grande are concerned. Elephant Butte Irrigation District groundwater resource manager Erek Fuchs says groundwater pumping to service growing activity in the Santa Teresa and Sunland Park area will impact the river and other users.

However, business leaders say the region isn’t growing fast enough to create enough customers to pay for a large desalination plant. They contend there is enough fresh water to take care of the current pace of growth for the next two decades.

Further impacting the debate is the decades-old compact under which New Mexico is obligated to deliver Rio Grande water to Texas.

With the uncertainty of how long fresh water supplies will last, now may be the right time for New Mexico, Texas and Mexico to work out agreements to balance everyone’s interests and start planning for the future before the resource runs out or becomes unusable.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.