NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A resolution has finally been reached between New Mexico and Texas over water unlawfully released from Elephant Butte Reservoir more than ten years ago. “In that November ISC [Interstate Stream Commission] meeting is when we announced that we had come to an agreement with Texas on the credit water dispute that started in 2011. And New Mexico then sued the Bureau of Reclamation in 2012 of their release of New Mexico and Colorado’s credit water that was unlawful at that time,” says Page Pegram, Rio Grande Basin manager for the Interstate Stream Commission. “It’s taken ten years to come to a resolution of that.”
The Interstate Stream Commission says in 2011, the Bureau of Reclamation released 32,500 acre-feet of water to Texas for farmers south of Elephant Butte Reservoir without asking. “In 2011, both Colorado and New Mexico had some credit water in Elephant Butte Reservoir just based on water that we had delivered in previous years. And that credit water is supposed to stay there until we decide what to do with it,” Pegram says. “But the Bureau of Reclamation, it was a really dry year, they had run out of water for the Rio Grande Project, which is for farmers south of Elephant Butte Reservoir. So, on their own, they decided to go ahead and release New Mexico and Colorado’s credit water – which we obviously disagreed with – and ultimately sued over.”
Pegram says 32,500 acre-feet is enough water for approximately 96,000 homes—for a year. “There is a mechanism by which we could have agreed to allow them to release it and gotten some compensation for it, but they decided to just go ahead and do it without giving us any compensation,” Pegram says.
Now, as part of the agreement with Texas, New Mexico will get a 32,500 acre-feet credit taken off its water debt in the Interstate Water Compact. “The bad news is it’s not wet water that our farmers below Elephant Butte Reservoir in the lower Rio Grande can actually use this year. It is a one-time credit towards our account, so the good news is that keeps us farther away from our debt limit which is 200,000 acre-feet. So it just gives us a little breathing room for the next few years,” Pegram says.
“It doesn’t mean that they have more wet water this year. It just means that we’re farther away from another lawsuit, essentially,” Pegram adds.
The one-time credit is a small step toward resolving New Mexico’s water debt. However, the worries over water are far from over. “With climate change, predictions are there will be up to 25% less water in the river in the next 50 years,” Pegram says. “We’ve definitely got to start decreasing our depletions both above and below Elephant Butte Reservoir.”