Case Studies in the Development of New Mexico Water Resources Institutions: The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Urban Water Pricing
Water has always been a key consideration in public and private decisions in the arid Southwest. Given the increasing demands upon this region’s water resources for energy production and expanding urban areas, as well as a variety of other uses, water and its availability will continue to play a pivotal role.
In recent years, however, there has been a growing recognition that this region’s water situation and problems must be examined within a broader social context, and that solutions are not possible if debate is cast solely in terms of the physical parameters of the problem. More and more it is being realized that the available water supply in a specific area is an institutional, man made constraint, rather than a hydrological one. In a period of full, or nearly full appropriation, it is the man-made water institutions that are the critical factors in shaping the region’s water future.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) is the single sustaining institution for irrigated agriculture in this geographic area, amid surging urban development. The social organization provided by the MRGCD has served to further much development and prosperity in this region which would otherwise not have been possible. This research represents an historical description of the formation and evolution of the MRGCD, as it has served the diverse populations of the region encompassed by its boundaries.
The history presented describes the many quarrels and obstacles which have been faced by the management of the District; those pressures which have led to significant evolutionary change in the management practices of the MRGCD are also described. This research provides much detail of the current issues which are being faced in the management of the Conservancy, with these concerns holding potential for further administrative change in the years to come.
Urban water pricing is a water-management institution in the sense that water-rate structures allocate city water among the various customers, encourage social values such as green lawns and parks, and influence citizens’ attitudes toward water use and conservation. Urban water demand represents one of the fastest growing areas of water use in New Mexico, and this growth is taking place in the midst of predominantly agricultural communities. How urban water institutions react and adapt in this changing environment will shape the future economic well being of the cities and their citizens, and will provide a reflection of changing social values and attitudes toward water and water use.
The water pricing of four New Mexico cities is analyzed: Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Belen, and Los Lunas. Included are a history of water rates and water-rate structures, as well as the social and economic conditions which have influenced these rates. Both Albuquerque and Santa Fe have experienced significant changes in urban water pricing. In most instances these changes have been in the direction of more efficient water use and conservation. On the other hand, neither Belen nor Los Lunas have had dramatic changes in urban water pricing. The social and economic forces of change, while present in Belen and Los Lunas, are neither of the same degree nor magnitude as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In this sense, Belen and Los Lunas represent a control group in this evaluation of the adaptation of urban water institutions to changing social and economic environments.
Project No. 1345640