Water Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty: How Can Our Water Laws and Policies Better Support Water Resilience?

Adrian Oglesby

Date Published:

February 2016


New Mexicans are increasingly aware of the danger of being unprepared for water shortages. We have seen rural communities run out of drinking water due to both deficient infrastructure and insufficient supplies. Farms have seen dramatic reductions in available irrigation water. Rangelands no longer support our accustomed levels of livestock. This list of impacts from changing precipitation and temperature norms goes on to include rivers running dry, reservoirs sitting empty, and catastrophic forest fires.

Many believe the current drought represents the new norm for New Mexico. Predictive models caution us of a future in the Southwest with altered precipitation patterns and significantly higher temperatures. Now is the time to prepare in earnest for a future with reduced water availability across all of New Mexico’s communities.

New Mexico has taken action to address our water woes. In 2014, $89 million of capital outlay money was dedicated to water projects. In addition to physical infrastructure, the State is seeking out the best laws and policies to make the most of our water. In the Fifty-first Legislature, the House of Representatives passed memorials requesting an in-depth analysis of best practices in water conservation and a report on water policy options that includes efficiency, watershed restoration, and desalination.

In response to the call from the Legislature, the Utton Transboundary Resources Center convened over forty experienced water managers, lawyers, scientists, engineers, academics, and students (see Attachment A for a list of the participants) to explore water law and policy options for New Mexico. To encourage imaginative and courageous thinking we imposed the Chatham House Rule, which allows participants to use any information provided at the conference, but prohibits participants from revealing the identity or affiliation of the person who provides that information, nor that of any other participant. Liberated from fear of possible repercussions, the group freely proposed changes to New Mexico water law and policy to help New Mexico incorporate the concept of resilience into its water management objectives and avoid future conflicts over water.

Recommendations to change New Mexico water law are constantly being presented to the Legislature. In preparation for our conference, the Utton Center reviewed numerous reports from recent years that proposed ideas that might make New Mexico more water resilient. While some of the ideas presented here are repeats of other recommendations, they have not yet been fully implemented; we see them as critical and worthy of continued discussion.

This Report documents the discussions and recommendations developed during that two-day conference and a subsequent presentation on water banking.



Keywords:   water law, policy, water resilience, management, drought, planning, water rights, water banking, water storage