What water sharing and collaboration can look like

No Endangered Species Act litigation required for this project on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico:

The Rio Grande is recovering some native vegetation with irrigation water typically used by farmers.

The International Boundary and Water Commission oversees water treaties between the United States and Mexico. But lately the agency has invested in river restoration projects.

In southern New Mexico it’s buying water rights from local land owners and using it to irrigate native vegetation.

“We’re not going to be growing cotton, we’re not growing chiles, we’re growing the environment,” said Edward Drusina, the U.S. Commissioner for the IBWC.

Here’s some background from a story I wrote last summer on the project:

The deal, negotiated over the last decade by environmental groups led by the Audubon Society and the irrigation district’s farmers, is the largest New Mexico example to date of a growing effort across the western United States to reclaim water for riverside environments.

By setting up programs under which willing farmers can sell their water on a short- or long-term basis, the agreements are an effort to sidestep farmers-versus-environmentalist battles that have dominated politics in some western river basins.

“As the water supplies decrease, shifting some water back to nature will be needed to keep the riverside habitats alive and healthy,” said Beth Bardwell of the Audubon Society.

Key message: this is not a lot of water or habitat at this point, but it takes time and experience to build the institutional plumbing needed to make stuff like this happen.