Fund the Strategic Water Reserve to Secure New Mexico’s Water Future

Op-Ed By The Coalition for the Strategic Water ReserveThe Albuquerque Journal | December 19, 2022

“Agua es Vida” – Water is Life. We regularly read it and hear it and say it across New Mexico. But our life is draining away as New Mexico faces unprecedented challenges to our water resources. To address these challenges, we need a wide range of water management tools, including a fully funded Strategic Water Reserve.

Every year across the Land of Enchantment, farmers are having to make do with less water, cities and towns are working to find new ways of conserving and reducing demand, and imperiled species are being pushed closer to the brink of extinction as rivers vanish. Flows in the Rio Grande have declined by 35% in the 21st century under an already two-decade long process of aridification. Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and declining river flows all place higher stress on plants, wildlife, and communities.

Climate change projections tell us that these water shortages will only become more severe in future years. It has never been more important to put in place sustainable and climate resilient water management systems that can help meet the needs of all users.

One tool that can help us get there is the Strategic Water Reserve. Enacted in 2005 with bipartisan support, the Reserve enables the state to buy, lease, and hold water rights to meet the needs of endangered species and to send enough water downstream to keep New Mexico in compliance with the water agreements we have made with our neighboring states, helping to prevent costly litigation.

When the Reserve was created, it received initial funding of $5 million. Those dollars were used to lease and purchase water from willing sellers and lessors, primarily along the Pecos River and Rio Grande. More recently, the Jicarilla Apache Nation partnered with The Nature Conservancy and the NM Interstate Stream Commission to negotiate the largest ever lease under the Reserve, along the San Juan River, which will not only benefit endangered species but also help our state meet its obligations under the Colorado River Compact.

However, the Reserve has struggled to secure consistent funding following the economic crash of 2008, when appropriations were zeroed out and never fully restored. Funding since has been small and sporadic, limiting its effectiveness. Today there is less than $1 million in the Reserve’s account.

To secure New Mexico’s water future, we must make a substantial investment into the Strategic Water Reserve. The timing is perfect, as the state is currently benefiting from record revenue surpluses estimated at $3.6 billion. An investment of $25 million, less than 1% of this surplus, would give the Reserve the financial resources it needs to work well for years to come.

As climate change continues to threaten the water security of our state, we urge lawmakers to prioritize funding for the Strategic Water Reserve and ensure that this important water management tool is ready to effectively meet the challenges ahead and help us achieve a secure and equitable water future for New Mexico.

The Coalition for the Strategic Water Reserve includes Amigos Bravos, Audubon Southwest, Conservation Voters New Mexico, Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico Wild, Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter, Think New Mexico, Western Resource Advocates, WildEarth Guardians, and other organizations with thousands of members across New Mexico and the greater American West.

This op-ed originally appeared in the The Albuquerque Journal.

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