Local Leagues in New Mexico

Water Supply and Demand, 2007-2010

At its 2007 state Convention, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico approved a two-year study of Water Supply and Demand. The League would like to develop a statewide position on the allocation of available water among competing uses, grounded in a basic understanding of NM water availability and water law. A third year was approved at the 2009 state Convention. Consensus questions will deal with

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Most of the NM Leagues have studied water issues in the past but the resulting positions may not be applied at the state level without statewide consensus. See the existing local positions.

Public Welfare

The New Mexico Water Code obliges the State Engineer to consider "public welfare" when allocating water or approving water transfers. However, the state has never formally defined public welfare, although New Mexico courts have held that the term should be construed broadly to include health and safety, recreational, aesthetic, environmental and economic interests. Consideration of public welfare raises difficult economic, environmental and social issues. Nevertheless, the public welfare requirement does establish a mechanism to broaden the protection of water resources.

Consuelo Bokum (NM Environmental Law Center, no date). Implementing the Public Welfare Requirement in New Mexico's Water Code (PDF 128 KB). This report reviews the public trust doctrine underlying the authority given to the State Engineer to protect the "public welfare" and argues that the term should be defined broadly, supplying a draft definition and standards for its implementation.

Public welfare statements from selected regional water plans:

Water and Land Use

"Historically, land-use and water planning have occurred separately from one another. Water is allocated by state agencies, and land-use planning is done by local officials." (Watering the West, Headwaters News, March 15, 2007.)

A. Dan Tarlock and Sarah B. Van de Wetering, 2007. Water and Western Growth (PDF 136 KB)

Matthew McKinney, 2003. Linking Growth and Land Use to Water Supply (PDF 112 KB)


NRDC (2007). In Hot Water: Water Management Strategies to Weather the Effects of Global Warming. (PDF 2.6 MB) This report summarizes the potential water management impacts of climate change, describes existing climate-related activities of water managers around the West, and offers a full range of recommendations. See especially Chapter 4 for a review of conservation measures.

Regional Water Planning

State Water Plan and Regional Water Plans at the Office of the State Engineer web site.

Basic references

Definitions and Units: (Dead link) Unit conversion factors (acre-feet, gallons, and all that) plus brief discussions of the doctrine of "prior appropriation", "adjudication", and "offsets".

Introduction to New Mexico Water History and Terminology, (Dead link) NM Legislative Council Service Information Bulletin, November 21, 2002.

Alleta Belin, Consuela Bokum and Frank Titus (2002). (Dead link) Taking Charge of Our Water Destiny: A Water Management Policy Guide for New Mexico in the 21st Century. 1000 Friends of New Mexico. (PDF 856 KB) This comprehensive survey includes discussions of New Mexico's priority water rights system, groundwater resources, and urban/rural tradeoffs. One appendix is devoted to the ABCs of NM water law, and another defines many terms.

Additional references

Regulation of Water Versus Hydrologic Reality in New Mexico, by Peggy Barroll (Southwest Hydrology 2003) is a good two-page introduction to the regulation of groundwater in New Mexico. (PDF 280 KB)

Hijacking the Rio Grande: Aquifer Mining in an Arid River Basin by Lisa Roberts (Geotimes 2004) lays out the complicated relationships between physical reality, New Mexico water law, and development pressures in the Middle Rio Grande. (PDF 372 KB)

The San Juan/Chama Project (PDF 84 kB) diverts about 110,000 acre-feet per year (afy) of water from the Colorado River Basin across the continental divide into the Rio Grande Basin. More than half of this is destined for the Middle Rio Grande region. Albuquerque completed its San Juan Drinking Water Project in December 2008. Eventually the project will provide 70-90% of the metro area's water. The former system, relying entirely on pumping groundwater, was removing water from the aquifer twice as fast as it could be replaced.

Presentations and related articles

Who Owns Water? Water Rights in the Southwest States by Brian Hurd, NMSU (2003) presents the legal history of western water law in general and then goes into New Mexico law. (PDF, 1.7 MB)

NM Water Rights Fact Sheet produced by the Bureau of Land Management.

Water and Drought in the 21st Century (slides, PDF format, 1.8 MB), overview by UNM Professor David Gutzler. See also the report of the NMENV Technical Work Group on Potential Effects of Climate Change in New Mexico (PDF, 148 KB) and The Future is Drying Up by Jon Gertner, published in the New York Times Magazine on October 19, 2007.

Sandoval County Water Issues (slides, PDF format, 1.1 MB), presentation by Bob Wessely, including several slides dealing with the regional water budget and much more. Here is the detailed water budget from Appendix 8 (PDF 4.0 MB) of the Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan.

Useful Links

New Mexico Water Dialog. Good newsletter .

Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. Publisher of the biannual report "The World's Water".

USGS Water Resources Information