New Mexico's "Hard Choices"

Aug 29, 2012

On Tuesday in Las Cruces, New Mexico State University hosted the 57th annual New Mexico Water Conference. This year’s conference was titled “Hard Choices” and its participants were trying to figure out how New Mexicans can adapt to water scarcity. 

At the conference, there were federal and state water managers, scientists, activists, farmers—anyone with an interest in understanding how New Mexico’s water is managed and how it’s going to be managed in the future, as water becomes increasingly scarce.

The conference was co-hosted by the president of New Mexico State University and Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM.

The senator was at the conference as a speaker, but also facilitated panels and sat in the audience, listening. Here’s Sen. Udall, talking about what some of those “hard choices” might be:

It’ s a particularly good time to have a water conference, where we address the kinds of issues of: how are we going to get future water, are we going to go out and raid agriculture and acequias? What’s the balance between urban and rural? These are really tough questions, and I think it’s important to pull everybody together and that’s what we’re really trying to do here. And rather than be a one-time conference, what were going to try to do here is take ideas, take suggestions, take solutions, and put them on our websites and continue to interact with people and see if we can build some consensus around particular ideas. So this is a little different way of doing things.

Many discussions throughout the day touched upon the impacts of drought and climate change.

Dagmar Llewellyn came down from Albuquerque to talk about a project she’s working on for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The water management agency is studying climate change and its impact on the Rio Grande and other major water basins across the western United States.

On the Rio Grande, one thing is clear: water supplies will decline at the same time that demand will increase.

Drought aside, New Mexico is already experiencing warmer temperatures.  Whether they are agricultural crops, landscaped yards, or riparian trees, plants need more water when it’s warm. Those higher temperatures also increase the amount of water that evaporates from reservoirs.

As the gap between supply and demand continues to increase, it’s likely that cities and farmers will pump more groundwater, a non-renewable resource.

The Rio Grande Climate Impact Assessment will come out this fall, and the agency is already looking for local and state partners interested in figuring out adaptation strategies.

“I think this is a time of potentially profound change, but also opportunity,” says Llewellyn.

Studying climate change isn’t all gloom and doom, she says:  “But we need to step up and see that as a challenge and take it on—and embrace uncertainty.

You can listen to the full interview with Sen. Udall online at: http://earthairwaves.kunm.org/2012/08/29/what-did-sen-tom-udall-learn-at-nms-water-conference/