ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – There are serious concerns about the future of New Mexico’s most iconic Rio Grande River. A team of researchers took a hard look at its condition, and the grade they gave it was not a great one.
“The report card results: a ‘C.’ Overall, the Upper Rio Grande Basin received a ‘C’,” said Alexandra Fries, with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. While that might seem like a passing grade: “A ‘C’ is a 54% out of 100,” said Fries.
The report card was created by teams of researchers and scientists looking at the river from the headwaters in Colorado all the way down to Texas. “We all have our ideas of ‘how’s the Rio Grande doing?’ But this is actually scored data that says this is the results,” said Fries.
They looked at things like water quality and quantity—which scored 47%; management and government—which scored 49%; and landscapes and ecology—which scored 61%. Bottom line: the water flows are low and continue to get lower. The annual flow was given an 18%—which is an ‘F.’
The report card is so concerning; it’s gotten the attention of federal lawmakers. “Our communities are facing historic drought. Our farmers, ranchers, our water managers, and families are facing an uncertain future,” says Rep. Melanie Stansbury, (D) New Mexico.
“It’s likely to get warmer, I think we’ve seen that before. The historical record suggests that it is taking place. And precipitation remains uncertain,” says Casey Brown, professor, and director of Hydrosystems Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Despite the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s low scores, researchers do have some ideas on how to raise the grade above a ‘C’ level. They are using simulated models to see how different things, like climate change, would affect the river. “No real indication that there’s a whole ton of water coming down the pike in the future,” Brown says.
They’re suggesting several things to help, like loosening regulations on reservoirs to hold more water upstream instead of sending it all down, reducing evaporation. They also say we need better management practices.
“In New Mexico, we know that water is life; water is sacred, and water is essential to everything that we do. And the life-giving waters of the Rio Grande have nurtured our communities for countless generations,” said Stansbury.
A website showing a more detailed breakdown of the report card by categories and indicators is now live and can be found here.