Coveting thy neighbor’s water

It’s not clear to me whether the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study is a tool for developing solutions to the long term supply-demand imbalance on the river, or a process for the states and other interests to stake out their turf. Probably some of both.

Witness, for example, the comments in a story I recently did framing the study from a New Mexico perspective:

By 2035, according to new data released last month, annual demand for the basin’s water could exceed supply by 13 percent under the most likely scenario as use continues to grow while climate change reduces flows in the river. Such an imbalance is unsustainable, emptying the reservoirs on which the region depends, said University of Colorado professor Doug Kenney.

“That’s enough to crash the system,” Kenney said.

The risk for New Mexico, which is not yet using its full share, is that others may covet our underused allocation as supply-demand tension grows, said Estevan López, head of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and acting state engineer.

“We should be working with the other states to try and make sure that the other states aren’t looking at water that New Mexico is entitled to,” López said in an interview this month.

Note that staking out turf and developing collaborative solutions are not mutually exclusive.