Farming nature

Going through files recently, I ran across this fascinating little bit of New Mexico water policy documentary history. It’s from 2011, when the Audubon Society and the Elephant Butte Irrigation District were trying to figure out a way to collaborate on a habitat restoration project on the Lower Rio Grande. The idea was to lease agricultural water rights and use them to irrigate riparian habitat along the river channel. Audubon was anxious to do this because this is the sort of thing Audubon does, and EBID was interested because of the protection such habitat might offer against Endangered Species Act claims.

But federal law that created the irrigation project stood in the way, because it specified that the project’s water was to be used for agriculture. The solution? Call this agriculture:



  1. I believe but ain’t sure that the young woman from audubon who mediated all this gave a talk at a Dialog gathering. If I’m remembering right, and I wouldn’t bet the farm on it (no relevance to this post intended), she was great about making it clear that growing this informal cooperation in a local context was really, really hard work and that there was a fairly substantial stretch about what you read about it and what happened when you actually did it. Piqued my anthropological curiosity to follow up on an important case study looking at the distance between theory and reality but never did it.

  2. Mike – Yup, Beth Bardwell. Lots of deeply, slowly developed social capital associated with this project.

  3. To comply with FERC and ESA requirements Nebraska releases water for T&E Species. All that was required was Nebraska recognizing water releases for in stream flows comprised beneficial use. Wyoming added an inflatable bladder to the top of Pathfinder Dam, a Federal BuRec Project, to increase storage to be released later for the T&E Species. Santa Fe has the right idea. Bending the rules to fit today’s situations seems more the norm.

  4. And it happened! “On Monday morning, June 30, (2014) EBID engineers released water for the first time to the young cottonwoods and willows recently planted at the inauspiciously named Leasburg Extension Lateral Wasteway #8 restoration site. Observers got a preview of things to come, since the USIBWC is committed to restoring native trees, shrubs and grasslands on a total of some 2,500 acres along the southern Rio Grande.” Read more, as reported in Sandra Postel’s Nat Geo Blog:

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