At the Audubon Water, Birds and Conservation Summit on June 15th, participants heard about the Western Rivers Action Network and their efforts to address river health. Insightful presentations by panelists got people thinking. There will be a similar workshop in Las Cruces on June 29th.It sure got me thinking. Junior water users - primarily municipalities and industries - are not supposed to have priority over senior water users - mostly tribes and farmers. But no one wants to tell a city 'no.' State water administrators bend over backwards to avoid it and appear to have assigned them a nearly unquestioned primacy over others. The agencies, engineers, hydrologists, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants who represent the 'juniors' are in the pilot's seat of the ship and no court adjudication is on the horizon.
Take Rio Rancho and Intel for example. They don't have all the water rights for the water they're using, but no one is telling them no, or slow. Take the oil and gas industry that consumes and permanently pollutes an un-tracked amount of fresh groundwater. No one is telling them no, or slow, or to collect data (or even follow the law.) Just the farmers. They are hearing 'no' quite a bit these days.
Water data also seems framed to benefit junior users. The huge place in pie charts for agriculture often counts flows in the river and riverside drains, ditches and acequias of the inner valley that support flora, wildlife habitat and, significantly, aquifer recharge from those waterways and farms. All that water is "agriculture." Naturally, the eye is drawn to that magnificently fat pie slice when the need to conserve comes up.
Data presenters also frequently make a distinction between "Economic Development" and "Agriculture." Like farmers are doing it for fun. Industry and the land speculation arts real estate are considered real economic development that must have adequate water supplies. To some, farming is a quaint relic of the 19th century. Like sunbonnets.
Where does birdwatching and New Mexico's huge outdoor economy fit in? Well, if it can't join the Chamber it isn't economic development.