October 6, 2023 –– A settlement agreement approved this summer over a dispute between New Mexico and Texas over Rio Grande water is not necessarily helping New Mexico’s irrigation districts, which are also facing issues over climate issues and limited infrastructure. An article by the NM Political Report about a meeting this week with the state’s Water and Natural Resources Committee and various irrigation districts highlighted the challenges.
The Elephant Butte Irrigation District, represented by Samantha Barncastle, expressed concerns at a Las Cruces meeting about the continuous tug-of-war over water rights between Texas and New Mexico. The long-standing issue of New Mexico allegedly over-extracting its share from the Rio Grande has put irrigation districts in the spotlight. The proposed solution, as described by Hannah Riseley-White of the Interstate Stream Commission, seems almost like a “new compact.” While this might bring some resolution to the dispute, it presents irrigation districts with the task of balancing this new agreement with the original Rio Grande compact, all while possibly requiring them to hire more personnel.
Climate-induced unpredictable weather patterns are posing additional problems for irrigation districts. The old ways of water management are not adequate in the face of sudden, heavy storms and reduced snowpack. Seeking financial help from the Inflation Reduction Act is an option, but the competition from other drought-stricken areas, like the Colorado River Basin, makes securing funds challenging.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, led by Jason Casuga, is already grappling with reduced water flow in the southern Middle Rio Grande. To conserve what’s left, they’re diverting some of the river’s flow, yet the ongoing construction at the El Vado Dam limits storage possibilities. The pressing challenge for irrigation districts is ensuring water availability while facing limited storage, construction, and competing interests.
See more in-depth reporting at NM Political Report.