ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds of New Mexico officials, business leaders and others finished hashing out recommendations Wednesday for improving the way the drought-stricken state uses its water and plans for the future.
They’re calling for more sharing agreements to stretch meager water supplies through dry times and changes in the law to better balance the water needs of people with endangered species.
Carving out a portion of the state budget each year for water projects and adding a special curriculum to teach students at all grade levels about water issues are also among the suggestions to come out of New Mexico First’s two-day town hall on water.
John D’Antonio, former state engineer and a deputy district engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said implementing the recommendations will require a combination of common sense, political will and money.
Working with lawmakers and lobbyists, D’Antonio will be leading the implementation effort over the next year.
“Water is so complicated. If you can’t put all of the pieces together, it does look insurmountable,” he said. “Somehow we have to simplify that complexity and try to get to some collaborative solutions.”
New Mexico is entering its fourth consecutive year of drought, the latest in a vicious cycle that has seen dismal winter snowpack followed by hot, dry and windy weather. The drought reached unprecedented levels last summer, and nearly 70 percent of the state is still dealing with severe drought conditions.
Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other communities have made great strides with conservation. Overall, water use in New Mexico has steadily declined over the past two decades, but experts say even more needs to be done.
“Honesty, we don’t have enough water in the system to continue on and move forward,” D’Antonio said, pointing to low river flows and reservoir levels.
Identifying potential sources of new water was one of the town hall’s major focuses. The recommendations call for taking a closer look at deep, underground pockets of salty water. Experts say these brackish aquifers could be used by industry in place of fresh water or to boost municipal supplies once treated.
Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary David Martin said the state is already working with the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and the federal labs to get a better handle on how much brackish water is available around the state, how sustainable those sources are and whether developing brackish water well fields will affect fresh water closer to the surface.
A study done last year estimates there are 15 billion acre-feet of brackish water in New Mexico.
New Mexico First plans in the coming weeks to issue a final report on the town hall that will outline the recommendations in detail.