NM WRRI Director Shares Institute Contributions to 50-Year Water Plan During New Mexico Water Dialogue’s 28th Annual Meeting
By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Specialist
In New Mexico and the American Southwest, water scarcity is one of the largest challenges to the resilience of multiple communities due to the general drying trend in the region over the last four decades and the forecasted impacts of higher temperatures and more variable precipitation. There is an urgent need for more collaborative approaches that can address water scarcity on a regional scale while increasing the resilience of the overall system. The necessity of addressing long-term challenges to New Mexico’s water resources led Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham to task the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NM ISC) with developing a 50-Year Water Plan for the state, centered around the pillars of stewardship, equity, and sustainability. After work on the 50-Year Water Plan began in early 2021, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) partnered with the NM ISC to assist in the development of the plan.
On January 13, 2022, as one of the presenters during the 28th Annual Meeting of the New Mexico Water Dialogue, NM WRRI director Dr. Sam Fernald shared with virtual attendees an update on the institute’s work to inform the 50-Year Water Plan by collaboratively collecting and assessing regional stakeholder strategies and visions to confront local water resource challenges. In this regard, Fernald highlighted the results of breakout sessions held at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in 2021, as well as ongoing regional resilience focus groups utilizing visualizations from the NM Dynamic Statewide Water Budget (NM DSWB).
Since October of 2021, a team of NM WRRI researchers and staff have conducted stakeholder focus groups in five different regions of New Mexico to 1.) collaboratively develop understandings of the regional water dynamics, 2.) distill strategies for water management that hold clues to water resilience and 3.) determine modeling scenarios that will assess these strategies in achieving regional visions for the future. For example, in the Lower Rio Grande region of the state, historical data has shown that groundwater pumping has increased as surface water availability has steadily declined. Focus group participants recommended strategies such as expanded aquifer recharge networks and watershed restoration efforts that would hopefully help to retain flood flows and reduce sediment transport.
Dr. Fernald also shared a summary of water resilience strategies put forward by participants at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference breakout sessions. Thirteen total breakout groups across five different categories (agriculture, watershed health, commercial & energy water use, public water systems, and outdoor recreation) asked participants to name their chief water concerns, challenges, and suggestions for action to achieve long-term resiliency. Some of these proposed strategies include expanded use of alternative water resources, more funding to improve outdated infrastructure, implementation of water shortage sharing agreements, and expansion of aquifer recharge practices and ecosystem service payment programs.
Next, the NM WRRI team will use preliminary and follow-up modeling to test which combination of stakeholder strategies can achieve their desired visions. Results will be shared with participants for comment before publication in an NM WRRI synthesis report to be included with the 50-Year Water Plan. The hope is that the results of this assessment will facilitate research and the development of community pilot projects for the implementation of effective strategies.
Apart from Dr. Fernald’s presentation, other presentation topics throughout the two-day virtual dialogue included an opening keynote address by Mike Hammon, chosen by Governor Lujan-Grisham in November 2021 to serve as the state’s senior water advisor, as well as a presentation by Dr. Karletta Chief on the impacts of climate change on tribal water resources, and many other presenters speaking on the Water Dialogue’s theme, “An Unprecedented Crisis: A Time to Act.” Video recordings from this year’s Water Dialogue will be made available on the NM Water Dialogue YouTube page, and conference presentation slides will be posted on the organization’s website.