Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere: Moving Water, New Mexico Style

From the Sunday Journal, a look at two proposals to pump and pipe water from rural New Mexico to the state’s rapidly developing Rio Grande corridor (sub/ad req):

Ray Pittman pulled his 1994 F-150 pickup to the top of a thinly wooded hill, a short walk from the water tank he built back in 1999 on his 1,300-acre ranch.

A mile down the hill, Pittman’s 540-foot-deep well pumps groundwater, pushing it up to the tank to provide for the cattle on this remote patch of central New Mexico landscape.

Pittman pointed to the west, to the vast plain that makes up the Augustin Plains Ranch. There, a commercial venture has proposed sinking 37 wells to pump up groundwater and pipe it to the Rio Grande Valley to supplement dwindling water supplies of central New Mexico’s farms and cities.

The Augustin Plains Ranch proposal would move 54,000 acre-feet per year of water to the Rio Grande Basin 50 miles away — enough water to meet the needs of a city the size of Albuquerque.

You can’t go there without remembering what happened in California a century ago:

The proposals inevitably raise the specter of the Owens Valley, the area in eastern California dried up early in the 20th century to bring water to Los Angeles. Taking that water “just devastated” the Owens Valley, D’Antonio noted, a problem that raises important issues about how such requests should be handled in New Mexico.

In economists’ terms, we have here an argument over whether the market (in this case several land owners’ desire to sell water to New Mexico’s cities) properly takes into account the externalities (the folks left behind, who argue their neighboring water supplies and community economies would be harmed).