New Mexico, Texas and Colorado have negotiated a proposed settlement that they say will end a yearslong battle over management of one of the longest rivers in North America, but the federal government and two irrigation districts that depend on the Rio Grande are objecting. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday announced that the states had brokered a deal following months of negotiations. While the terms remain confidential, his office called it “a comprehensive resolution of all the claims in the case.”
The federal government is designating $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act for drought mitigation work in the Colorado River basin.
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced that total, indicating that $500 million will go to efficiency upgrades in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Another chunk of IRA money will be set aside for direct payments to farmers and ranchers to forgo water deliveries from Lake Mead in the river’s Lower Basin, primarily in Arizona and California. Federal officials are not specifying how much money will be available for that first round of payments.
In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, buzzing chainsaws interrupt the serenity. Crews are hustling to remove charred trees and other debris that have been washing down the mountainsides in the wake of the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, choking rivers and streams.
Heavy equipment operators are moving boulders dislodged by the daily torrential summer rains that have followed the flames.
At the edge of a sandstone outcropping, Teresa Leger Fernández looks out on the Rio Chama. The river tracks a diverse landscape from the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains through rugged basalt hillsides, layers of volcanic tuff, and the red and yellow cliffs made famous by painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the agency charged with water resources management for the West at the federal government level, announced unprecedented Tier 1 cuts in water deliveries from Lake Mead on the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico in 2022. The Tier 1 cuts will reduce water deliveries due to historic low water levels in Lake Mead.
California deliveries are not impacted by this announcement due to senior water rights, but they could be coming if water levels continue to drop. The Colorado River watershed and most western river watersheds that feed reservoirs with snowmelt are not producing as much runoff as they have historically due to the warming atmosphere affecting snow elevations and dryer and warmer soil and air temperatures.
Hundreds of farmers along central New Mexico’s stretch of the Rio Grande face a second straight year of having their irrigation supplies cut off early.
The board that oversees the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District voted Friday to end deliveries for irrigation a month early because of low water availability.
The Oct. 1 shutoff means winter crops like those grown by Travis Harris just north of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are at risk.
In part one of this article, I covered the American West’s water problems, as well as some of the ways they have been solved with big engineering projects so far. Now, with climate change and growth both pushing the limits of water supplies, people are asking for even bigger projects, like a pipeline from the Mississippi River to somewhere in the Colorado River’s basin. Let’s talk about those ideas, even bigger ones, and why none of them might be a good idea.
Arizona state legislators asked Congress to consider a pipeline that dumps Mississippi water into the Green River, but there are alternate possibilities.
The historic drought stretching across California and the U.S. West will likely last through October, with only minor improvements expected in parts of Arizona and New Mexico.
Drought now covers almost 95% of 11 western states, including all of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and Idaho, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Above-normal temperatures and a dearth of rainfall is expected from August to October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s monthly report.
2020 has been a tough year for some of the Colorado River basin’s long-planned, most controversial water projects.
Proposals to divert water in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah have run up against significant legal, financial and political roadblocks this year. But while environmental groups have cheered the setbacks, it’s still unclear whether these projects have truly hit dead ends or are simply waiting in the wings.
One of New Mexico’s largest drinking water providers will stop diverting water from the Rio Grande to help prevent the stretch of the river that runs through Albuquerque from going dry this summer, officials said Tuesday.