Task Force building solutions to NM’s water crisis

By Tricia Snyder, Rio Grande Chapter Executive Committee
From the January/February/March 2023 newsletter

It is no secret that New Mexico is in a water crisis. In fact, the whole Southwest is in the driest two decades it has seen in at least 1,200 years. And the hard truth is climate projections tell us conditions will only get more challenging from here. We can expect temperatures to increase 5-7 °F over the next 50 years, with a 25% decrease in our overall water supply, increasing demand and competition across the state for this precious resource even as it slips through our fingers.

The Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force is tackling these challenges head on. Established by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over the summer and led by New Mexico’s State Engineer, the Task Force has brought together a diverse array of members to identify solutions that have broad consensus to some of our toughest water challenges.

The Task Force appointees, called Water Ambassadors, are New Mexicans from all sectors: natural resource agencies, industry representatives, agricultural producers, acequia leadership, Tribes and Pueblos, environmental organizations, and more. Together they have worked hard to develop 17 recommendations with more than 100 associated actions that will make our state significantly more climate-resilient.

We’ll see some of these recommendations take shape in the 2023 legislative session. A few you’ve already heard of, like adding funding and capacity for the Strategic Water Reserve, a pool of publicly held water rights that can be deployed to meet our obligations through interstate compacts or for the benefit of imperiled species. Some may be new, like rethinking our regional water-planning process and funding a surface water quality permitting program. All will help New Mexico build a more secure and equitable water future through unprecedented challenges.

The Task Force was initially envisioned to be a one-time convening during the summer and fall of 2022. But given what this diverse group of experts has produced, it is becoming increasingly clear that to not reconvene on a regular basis would be a serious waste of the social infrastructure the effort has built. Water in the American West is always a technically complex and socially contentious issue, and yet this group of New Mexicans, with very different perspectives, goals, priorities, and expertise, has managed to come together and develop a long list of workable solutions that represents years of work to implement but will protect our ecosystems and communities.

We encourage you to engage with the Sierra Club over the 2023 legislative session to support these recommendations moving forward and to talk to your legislators about the need for the important work of the Water Ambassadors to continue, at least until their long list of solutions are implemented.

Featured image by Pablo Tashjian via Flickr

Task Force building solutions to NM’s water crisis