NM WRRI Hosts Virtual 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference
By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
In a first for the 65 years of the Annual New Mexico Water Conference, more than 500 people from across the state, country, and the globe gathered in front of their computer screens for the NM WRRI’s first virtual annual New Mexico Water Conference, held October 26‑29, 2020. With a conference theme of Meeting New Mexico’s Pressing Water Needs: Challenges, Successes, and Opportunities, water researchers, government officials, tribal leaders, and others shared their perspectives and expertise on the latest water research and management topics facing New Mexico. Presentation slides linked by agenda item can be viewed here. Recorded video from all three days of the general conference webinar organized by session can be viewed in a YouTube playlist here.
From the opening remarks delivered by NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu and opening keynote address by U.S. Senator Tom Udall through three days of discussions and presentations, two technical poster sessions, and a host of questions and answers, conference participants were eager to take up the challenges, successes, and opportunities related to meeting New Mexico’s pressing water needs. The looming effects of environmental challenges such as the current drought and continued regional aridification highlighted some of the largest areas of concern for water managers and researchers. Presenters also spoke on legal challenges including water deliveries on the Rio Grande, as well as social and political challenges in access to water for rural communities, particularly tribes in New Mexico. Showcasing successes throughout the state offered conference participants guidance in water research and management. The pre-conference field trip on the San Juan-Chama Project Headwaters tour showed extensive work in upland water treatment, while a later presentation on the Rio Grande Water Fund highlighted efforts to protect our water supply from the devastating effects of wildfire. The opportunities for water research and planning in New Mexico included presentations on the 50-Year Water Plan that the state will be moving forward on soon, and at the federal level, studies of both the Rio Grande and the Pecos River basins. Finally, the opportunities for produced water research were explored extensively during the final conference session. Overall, the conference revealed that the state faces great challenges, but at the same time many water managers, researchers, and policymakers are working to build on successes and continue to understand and manage the state’s water resources into the future.
The day before the conference began, participants had the opportunity to attend a two-part “virtual field trip” on Monday, October 26. The Bureau of Reclamation produced an hour-long video tour of the San Juan-Chama Project headwaters basins in which virtual tour guide Emma Kelly guided participants through the history of the project, discussed its current functions and water delivery operations, and examined the critical work with partners such as the 2-3-2 Partnership and the San Juan-Chama Watershed Partnership to protect its headwater forests. You can view the entire video on the San Juan-Chama Watershed Partnership YouTube channel here. In the second hour of this virtual field trip, Lucia Sanchez of the Interstate Stream Commission Water Planning Program and filmmaker Christi Bode shared with conference participants videos demonstrating water planning and water data efforts taking place within New Mexico.
On Tuesday, October 27, after some words of welcome from New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu, New Mexico Senior Senator, Tom Udall delivered an opening keynote address that took up the question of how water managers, researchers, and policy-makers can meet the pressing water needs of New Mexico, namely those associated with climate change, and prolonged drought. Senator Udall focused on three keys to addressing water supply challenges: good science, cooperation, and, once the first two have come to fruition, taking action. Later in the morning, recognizing that the water supply challenges facing New Mexico have larger international dimensions, Senator Udall participated in a panel discussion alongside former Mexican Federal Senator Jeffrey Max Jones, former groundwater chief for Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA) Rubén Chávez Guillén, Dr. Mike Muller of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Chris Wilson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This discussion, moderated by NM WRRI Director, Sam Fernald, examined the opportunities and limitations associated with international policy approaches to addressing water issues, as well as the role of science in improving water policy decision-making.
Conference presentations on Wednesday, October 28, included an update by State Engineer John D’Antonio, Jr., the prospects of high-recovery desalination, an evaluation of prior appropriation by New Mexico State Representatives Melanie Stansbury and Derrick Lente, and a session dedicated to highlighting the research possibilities for water data in New Mexico. This day also saw the first of a two-part virtual poster session. Overall, 52 poster presenters, including university students, faculty, and agency personnel from across the state, showcased their current water-related research projects during the two-part virtual poster session. PDFs of posters are available to view on the conference website here.
To bring the conference to a close on Thursday, October 29, Michael Connor, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, delivered the 2020 Albert E. Utton Memorial Water Lecture. Connor’s lecture assessed the current state of climate change impacts in New Mexico and the western United States, and examined the current litigation, research, investment, and planning measures being taken, as well as the potential policy changes that may take shape under a new presidential administration. Other sessions on this final day focused on forest and watershed restoration efforts around the state, and an in-depth look at produced water research being done from the perspectives of both the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project and the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium.
A conference proceedings will be prepared in the coming months, and once completed will be available via the NM WRRI website.