eNews November 2021

UNM Law Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Research Grant for a Comparative Analysis of the Nile and Rio Grande Basins

UNM Law Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Research Grant for a Comparative Analysis of the Nile and Rio Grande Basins

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Egypt, like New Mexico, is in a precarious situation. Roughly 97 percent of Egypt’s irrigation and drinking water comes from the Nile River1, which means any upriver changes to water quantity and timing caused by the recently completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, future water control by Sudan, and/or climate change could ignite a multi-state crisis. Stephen D. Earsom and his faculty sponsor, Adrian Oglesby of The Utton Transboundary Resources Center and University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Law, believe this situation could inform future management of the Rio Grande Basin in the decades to come.

Earsom, a graduate student working toward his Juris Doctor at the UNM School of Law, has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for a project titled, A Comparative Legal and Policy Analysis of the Nile and Rio Grande Basins. This project addresses the question: How resilient are existing transboundary compacts between the U.S. and Mexico, and between Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and tribal sovereigns? The Nile and the Rio Grande both begin in temperate, mountainous areas and flow into arid regions where water is scarce. According to Earsom, an even more important similarity is that both basins involve multiple sovereigns, legal regimes, and social norms, all of which can form the basis of conflict.

The goal of this project is to look through the dual lenses of and climate change and New Mexico’s current legal landscape to determine how a situation similar to that in the Nile Basin could arise in the Rio Grande Basin and, if the potential exists, how to minimize risk. The project includes three objectives: (1) summarize and compare international, national, and state water laws for the Nile and the Rio Grande watersheds, (2) analyze available conflict resolution tools such as court systems and tribunals for their perceived efficacy and resilience, (3) identify weaknesses in the existing legal systems and agreements, and analyze the implications for New Mexico water stakeholders.

According to Earsom, studying the Nile situation will benefit Rio Grande policymakers, “New Mexico needs to have a resilient and forward-thinking policy and legal basis to be able to resolve the many existing and future legal issues that will arise due to the effects of climate change.” Earsom expects the results of the project may uncover Nile Basin legal or policy errors, vulnerabilities, and missed opportunities that Rio Grande policymakers may wish to learn from and avoid. Alternatively, best practices may be discovered on the Nile that could be successfully employed on the Rio Grande to reduce conflict. Earsom will publish and present the findings of this study to inform policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels. Perceived vulnerabilities identified in the study will lead to recommendations for how to resolve the issues, ideally using existing legal and scientific tools and methodologies. If and where necessary, legal or policy shifts will be recommended. Earsom believes the results will be of value for policymakers, planners, and others interested in the present and future availability of water in New Mexico and the Rio Grande Basin.

Earsom presented a poster on this project at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference. Earsom, originally from Oklahoma, has a BS in Petroleum Engineering and an MS in Biology. After graduation, Earsom plans on leveraging his engineering, ecology, and policy experience, in addition to his law degree, to provide holistic water resources legal counsel.


1  Accessed 14 April 2021.