Water Wars

By: Shaya Rogers, Staff Reporter

Why Texas is suing New Mexico

The water dispute between Texas and New Mexico is a complicated issue with many facets. In this special edition of “Ten Minutes With…,” The Chronicle reached out to NMSU Civil Engineering professor John Phillip King, a long time water resource advocate, often quoted in the Albuquerque Journal and other publications, to help explain the situation.

The state of Texas’ recently filed lawsuit claims that New Mexico is using too much water from the Rio Grande River, said NMSU Civil Engineering Professor John Phillip King.

The suit accused New Mexico of taking more than its share of water in the Elephant Butte area, leaving Texas with less water, said King.

In reality, this prob­lem is the result of a long-standing drought, he said.

“We’re looking at the third really harsh year of drought here and so our ground water is tired and the surface water supply for 2013 is looking regret­tably poor,” he said.

The lawsuit could take years to be resolved, but there is a hearing expected to take place in early summer, he said.

“I have a daughter who is a sophomore in high school now and I’m sure she’ll be through graduate school by the time it is fully resolved. The Supreme Court doesn’t do things quickly,” he said.

H i s t o r i c a l l y , drought has always been a difficult issue in the region. Limited pre­cipitation has directly affected the whole community and often causes conflict, he said.

New Mexico, Texas and Colorado were part of The Rio Grande Compact, signed in 1938, which allotted to each state a portion of the water, he said.

The water in southern New Mexico was divided according to relative size; 57 per­cent to Elephant Butte Irrigation District and 43 percent to the El Paso Irrigation District, he said.

“You can see the societal trauma caused by drought. It’s unfor­tunate having to see it first hand, real time, right now,” he said.

While the two states are different geographi­cally, the Rio Grande Compact recognized the southern New Mexico area and Texas as one unit, he said.

Since the divid­ing line is not at the Texas/New Mexico border, issues arose from the amount of water delivered to the area, the amount of water pumped out, and the remaining surface water that flows to Texas, he said.

New Mexico has increased ground water pumping, which takes away from the amount of surface water allocated to El Paso, he said.

“If you pump an acre foot out of the ground, ultimately that is an acre foot out of the river,” he said.

At this point, the damage is done and strong feelings toward the water situation on both sides make nego­tiation near impossible, he said.

“If you go back to the 500’s and 600’s, sixth and seventh cen­turies, there was a greater drought there that makes this one look like kindergarten,” he said.

New Mexico and Texas will have to come to an agreement over the water supply and the existing drought either way, he said.

“I hate to quote Broadway musicals, but ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’ and we’ll play it from there,” he said.

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