Water is flowing in Corrales’ irrigation ditches despite failure of the siphon that is supposed to bring water from canals east of the Rio Grande to the west side, and despite serious multi-year drought. Corraleños’ attention to water availability is focused as rarely before, especially due to increased understanding of climate change and what it may mean in the Corrales Valley. Corraleños produced a 40-year water plan in 2004. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXIII No.21 December 18, 2004 “40-Year Water Plan Could Change Corrales’ Scenic, ‘Oasis’ Look.”)
Village officials then “accepted” the 40-year water plan which could, if rigorously implemented, drastically change the community’s appearance.
Among many other provisions, the plan called for an “aggressive program” to remove elm and Russian olive trees from Corrales, while exempting “large, specimen trees.”
It also stated that “xeriscaping is encouraged, but is not mandatory,” for existing residences east of Loma Larga, and that “xeriscaping is recommended for all municipal and commercial locations,” although “existing large specimen trees and mature plantings may remain in all areas.”
At their October 26, 2004 meeting, Village Council members formally accepted the plan produced by the appointed Corrales Water Advisory Commission over the previous two and a half years.
Corrales’ 40 Year Water Plan in 2004 had a set of 15 recommendations, a number of which were controversial. The Corrales water plan recommended laws and voluntary programs to encourage water conservation by homeowners. It would also force Village officials to consider water availability before committing to new public facilities and before approving private developments.
Among those are removal of elm and Russian olive trees throughout the village, encouraging xeriscaping in the business district, encouraging installation of water meters on domestic and irrigation wells and not encouraging grey water re-use and rain harvesting.
Seven pages of recommendations contain the following:
- “Ordinances to Insure Adequate Water Availability. Planning and Zoning should confirm that all new commercial, municipal and residential construction has adequate water permits and/or rights. This would include requiring well permits from the Village for all new or replacement wells.
“A two-tiered structure of permit fees would be to permit replacement wells at a relative small fee, new wells at a standard fee, and fee waiver for replacement wells where residents are 65 years or older. Adding septic permit fees should also be investigated by Planning and Zoning.
- “Xeriscaping and Green Zone. Xeriscaping should be practiced throughout Corrales consistent with horticultural legacy, history and topography of the various areas in Corrales.
“West of Loma larga, in keeping with the Village Comprehensive Plan and topography, xeriscaping should be mandatory for all new construction and strongly encouraged for existing residences.
“East of Loma Larga, in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan and historical precedent, xeriscaping is encouraged but is not mandatory.
“Municipal and commercial locations… existing large specimen trees and mature plantings may remain in all areas.…
“Water usage based on location will be controversial. Further, continued water use for the ‘green zone’ east of Loma Larga will not significantly affect consumption due to aquifer recharge.”
A recommendation against rain water harvesting and re-use of domestic grey water which appeared in the draft plan has been deleted from the final. It read: “Rain water harvesting, grey water reuse and low-flow appliance should not be encouraged in Corrales. The Village water system is currently almost entirely based on individual wells and septic systems. None of the above actions would result in meaningful reductions in water consumption.
- “Bosque Restoration. Develop an aggressive program to reduce evapotranspiration water losses from the bosque by removing non-native phreatophytes (especially salt cedar, Russian olives and Chinese elms).
- “Village Wide Removal of Phreatophytes. Develop an aggressive program to reduce evapotranspiration water losses throughout the village by removing non-native phreatophytes (especially salt cedar, Chinese elms and Russian olives).
“Large specimen trees may be exempted. Prohibit planting of these plants by residents and advise area nurseries and other outlets.
- “Village Wide Water Quality Testing Program. Implement a village wide water quality testing program. Each year, sample a percentage of the wells geographically distributed throughout the village. Measuring static well levels at the same time should be considered. Data will be incorporated in a data base that will provide the Village with current data and trends on our water status.
- “Village Well Metering. Implement a voluntary well and ditch water metering program for each residence. This will help the Village determine what actual water usage is. If implemented, this will help evaluate the effectiveness of planned conservation programs. Without measurements, water conservation progress and effectiveness will be difficult to assess.
“Actual water use is also a defensible position against reduction of permits and certainly of rights. A program that includes Village education will be required. this program should be voluntary and made mandatory if State mandated or as part of a severe drought plan.
“Installing well metering could cost $500 or more per residence. This cost, if borne by the resident, will not be well-received. Further, the metering could be viewed as a first step that could lead to usage restrictions and even water usage [reduction]. However, any resident who believes they may have ground water rights should have a well meter in order to properly establish those rights with the State Engineer.
- “Irrigation of Residential and Commercial Property. Implement a program that maximizes watering effectiveness while minimizing water consumption. Restrictions on time of day that spray watering is permitted should be implemented.
“Drip/spray watering education should be developed that emphasizes maximum water conservation through optimal duration and timing of watering, use of drip wherever possible, selection of large-drop, lower pressure spray whenever possible, careful design and monitoring of system to ensure only intended areas are watered.
“Minimizing the use of water for irrigation is a complex task that may not be well understood by village residents.”
This recommendation has the following “Action Required” advice: “Enact ordinances restricting time of day for spray watering. Require a permit for new underground irrigation systems.”
- “Irrigation Efficiency for Cultivated Fields. Implement a program that maximizes irrigation effectiveness while minimizing water consumption. Incentives and/or education for laser leveled fields irrigated by flooding should be considered.
- “Improve Well Drilling Regulations. Establish well drilling requirements that minimize water contamination from ground water. This includes proper capping and casing sealing. This could be implemented through a Corrales Well Permit process. Well drilling requirements in New Mexico do not minimize exposure to ground water contamination.… While we believe that village wells are not contaminated, there is a significant contamination exposure. Implementing this program will increase the cost of new or re-drilled wells.
- “Adult Education Outreach Programs. Establish adult education outreach programs that include topics not otherwise specified above.…
- “Student and Child Outreach and Education Programs. Establish children and school education outreach programs that include topics not otherwise specified above. Topics would include how the river affects the water in our homes, the inter-relationship of water and farming, the river, and wells.
- “Legislative Impact. Establish a response system to the citizens on legislative issues or rule making that affects the Village or residents. Currently there is no timely way to determine what changes may affect all citizens in Corrales in relationship to water.…
- “Well Level Measuring. Implement a voluntary program to regularly measure static well levels in selected areas in the village. The number of wells required, their depths and their locations would have to be determined based on a review of the village’s aquifers.
“These measurements may be required as often as weekly. The information would be stored in a database that will provide the Village the status and the trends of our aquifer levels.… A program administrator will be required to co-ordinate the program.
- “Maintain Open Space and Preserve Farmland. Implement programs to maintain open space and farmlands in Corrales. By maintaining open space and farmlands,fewer wells and septic systems are required. slow percolation into the aquifer from this land also improves water quality.
- “Establish Active Water Management for Recreation Center. Install and maintain a system that monitors rainfall and/or sensors that override automatic watering systems (well-supplied).
Corrales’ John Brown was a co-founder and director of the N.M Water Dialogue and long time participant in water policy discussions.
A preface to the recommendations in “Making the Case for Change: seeking solutions to important New Mexico water problems” states the problem this way. “New Mexico is faced with, but has not faced up to, important water resource limitations: downstream delivery obligations, federally-mandated requirements, and state-permitted water uses and authorizations that substantially exceed sustainable supplies.
“Without action to address articulated problems, New Mexico’s current and future water supplies, as well as our pocketbooks, are at risk.
“Specific significant flaws identified from the most recent attempt at regional water planning were the impetus for 2017 House Memorial 1. The memorial requested the Interstate Stream Commission to convene a task force to address these flaws. That has yet to take place. In response to this memorial, however, a working group of volunteer water planners prepared this proposal on how New Mexico should address its water issues.”
The working group’s recommendations noted that “These solutions are presented to seek the necessary leadership and pressure by the Executive and the Legislature to cause them to be implemented. All of these problems and solutions have been raised repeatedly, most recently as the ISC’s December 2017 Town Hall. But progress has not been made or has stalled. Financial support for water planning has been consistently far less than in neighboring states. Funding, staffing, water resources data collection, and the capacity of agencies to deal with New Mexico’s water problems are all currently diminished from previously inadequate levels, while, at the same time, our water supplies are facing increasing pressures.
“One solution —administration of New Mexico’s water use to keep it within interstate stream compact limits — Active Water Resource Management (AWRM) became state law in 2003 and was upheld by a 2012 N.M. Supreme Court decision. The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) has not met its commitments to the Legislature to make substantial progress. Another solution — making water planning effective — needs emphasis because the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) treats water planning as an end in itself, rather than a thoughtful means to seek and implement solutions to problems.
“The N.M. Constitution requires that water be administered by priority, ‘first in time, first in right.’ While such priority administration is required, it has rarely, if ever, been put to use. That has allowed too many demands to be placed upon a shrinking resource.
“Priorities must be administered so as not to exceed the physically and legally available water within the stream or basin, if planning doesn’t result in better solutions.”
An immediate cause for action is the U.S. Supreme Court decision that New Mexico must comply with Texas’ demands for more water flowing through New Mexico. “That will mean our Rio Grande water use will be cut back and our future water use will be explicited limited.
“The attendant adverse consequences and risks not only include a demand to deliver more water, but carry a potential billion-dollar damage assessment,” the group’s report advised.
The report blasts the State’s “hand-off approach to water administration. Neither history, hydrological facts, existing law, recent state law authorizations, nor agency initiatives have proved sufficient for New Mexico’s state and regional water management and planning agencies to confront our water problems. Left to fester, the problems are doing just that. State water management agencies have authorities fractured, and leadership lacks political support to admit and solve problems. The entire water administration program lacks accountability.”
The document warns conditions affecting water scarcity will only get worse. “To minimize the impact of climate change and build resilience, it is imperative that New Mexico plan for dealing with variable water supplies, including a focus on water-energy nexus, drought planning and preparation for extreme precipitation events to minimize their adverse impacts.”
But it’s not as though the state’s water dilemma has just been realized. Regional water plans got under way more than a decade ago with the convening of a Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly by then-Corrales water economist Lee Brown. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXIV No.8 June 11, 2005 “Regional Water Assembly June 11, UNM Campus.”)
But those efforts were mostly futile, the report asserts. “Changes are required to make the state-funded regional water planning programs productive.
“Plans are needed for compliance with compacts and improved sustainability of groundwater supplies.The State’s water planning since the 1987 statutory establishment of regional water planning has not met these needs.
“Water planning should strive to protect our water supplies and make our uses of them more resilient. Planning should seek to collaboratively identify and implement balanced realistic solutions to solve real problems. Water plans should integrate goals and policies, including land-use decisions, water quality standards, recreational needs, environmental protections, agricultural uses, urban growth demands, tribal requirements, and climatic changes.
“Water planning at all levels must identify opportunities for conservation and seek to stop waste and non-conserving uses. To minimize the impact of climate change and build resilience, it is imperative that New Mexico plan for dealing with variable water supplies, including a focus on water-energy nexus, drought planning and preparation for extreme precipitation events to minimize their adverse impacts.”
The submission by the working group insisted that “The Interstate Stream Commission must change its processes to approve, modify, or reject regional water plan recommendations rather than only ‘accepting’ submitted plans. Approved recommendations must be implemented.
“Those charged with carrying out adopted strategies must be able to make credible commitments to do so, and the regional planning entity must have the ability to monitor both implementation and its effect on the water resource.”