*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the price of the water lease.
CUBA, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico made its first “order” of 6.5 billion gallons of water under a new agreement with the Jicarilla Apache Nation. The state could ultimately lease up to 65 billion gallons from the sovereign nation over the next decade.
Earlier this year, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission entered an agreement with the Jicarilla Apache Nation and The Nature Conservancy to lease the water from the Native American tribal land. The goal is to use the water in times of shortage to help endangered species within New Mexico’s waterways and to help New Mexico fulfill its obligations for providing water to users.
“The Jicarilla Apache Nation looks forward to the implementation phase of this project and hopes that this transaction can serve as a model across the Basin for collaboration with conservation organizations, negotiation of arms-length sovereign-to-sovereign agreements, and development of creative solutions that serve multiple interests,” Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde said in a press release.
The water is currently held in the Navajo Reservoir near the Colorado-New Mexico border. The first release will occur in 2023.
The exact plan for the release hasn’t been set yet. Currently, researchers are trying to figure out how to best time the release into the San Juan River, before flowing into the Colorado River, to provide the biggest benefit for endangered fish, according to The Nature Conservancy and NM Interstate Stream Commission.
“The Colorado River is in an unprecedented crisis,” Celene Hawkins, the Colorado River tribal partnerships program director for The Nature Conservancy said in a press release. “Communities must proactively work together, focusing on water conservation and management. This project is a step toward those goals, and we are thrilled to be a part of this great partnership.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to the Interstate Stream Commission to learn how much New Mexico will pay to lease the water. Spokesperson Maggie Fitzgerald says that if the full 6.5 billion gallons is leased for 2023, it will cost New Mexico $1.76 million – that’s $88 per acre-foot for 20,000 acre-feet. If New Mexico ends up leasing less, the per-acre-foot price could change.