New Mexico Water Wars

Well, I might have said earlier that we should quit whining about the drought and low lake levels, but I changed my mind. It is true that we should take advantage of the low levels to put some place new fish habitat structure and work on shoreline vegetation to speed up the recovery process. However, people are trying to give away New Mexico's water and we need to do what we can to turn this around. Here is my latest rant (Oct-2011):

B.A.S.S. anglers in New Mexico and surrounding southwestern states may be trading in their boats for golf carts and poker chips if casinos, big business and city politicians get their way. From one perspective, southwestern bass anglers benefited when many reservoirs were built in the 20th century for irrigation, flood control and municipal water supplies. In New Mexico, there are only 10 reservoirs big enough to support bass tournaments that wouldn’t have otherwise been built. But continued growth in urban population, casinos with their fountains and golf courses, semiconductor industries and cattle feedlots have pushed demand for groundwater and surface water beyond supply. Just to add fuel to the fire, federal courts have ruled that minimum instream flows must be maintained to provide habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and other endangered fish and birds. The stream discharges leave New Mexico for Amistad Reservoir and Mexico but little of it ever reaches Amistad.

Water has just become another bargaining chip in the economic struggle to bring new business and employment to New Mexico. But the irony is that all of the southwest states are competing with each other to give away water to attract new jobs while they are risking the agriculture and tourism that these reservoirs created when they were built. It is just another case of poorly conceived political “redistribution of wealth” that is going to leave us high and dry if we don’t speak up and get in the game.

The current drought has drained many of the lakes to near record lows and forced some farmers to cut back on crops. Oddly enough though, there are four new championship golf courses next to our two biggest casinos and two largest bass fishing reservoirs. There was also a proposal to sell $10,000,000 worth of water rights to Intel, the largest non-government employer in the state. A pipeline is also being installed to withdraw water from Ute Lake for southeastern New Mexico cities. Water rights owners in the Pecos River valley recently approached the water-strapped city of Santa Fe with an offer to sell their rights and pipe water out of the Pecos, further increasing the risk of Golden Algae fish kills in the lower Pecos Valley.

The impact of these water deals in other southwestern states is just as threatening.

In our neighboring states, the Nevada Supreme Court decided in 2007 that the state engineer violated the due process rights of people that protested a 300-mile pipeline and water withdrawals for the City of Las Vegas. Colorado, Arizona and California municipalities also have plans on the table to draw more water from the Colorado river, bypass the California Delta and divert more water from other basins. We may be late, but we must get involved in efforts to keep the water in our reservoirs and stem the diversions.

Before you vote next fall, know where your candidates stand on protecting our reservoirs.

Earl Conway

New Mexico Bass Federation Nation

Conservation Director