Beyond the Mirage

October 8, 2016: Albuquerque: With over 60 people in attendance, the premiere showing of Beyond the Mirage at University of New Mexico’s George Pearl Hall was a great success! Students, professors, community activists, farmers, ranchers, and agencies all came together to discuss the importance of water conservation with a focus on the San Juan – Chama region. Check out some of the round table questions discussed and our exceptional panel members who helped us move the dialogue forward below. The day began with the formation of the San Juan – Chama Watershed Partnership Steering Committee who will be tasked with on-the-ground implementation of a variety of watershed projects throughout the region.

Beyond the Mirage is showing on KNMD-HD 9.1 WORLD on Friday, October 21st at 12 AM, 8 AM, and 2 PM. Check it out here

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PANEL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

John Fleck

Question: The movie also emphasizes the interconnectedness of the entire system. Through Reclamation’s San Juan-Chama Project, the Middle Rio Grande’s water supply is able to take advantage of flows in the Colorado River system, but the supply we get is vulnerable to shortages in California. Please discuss the pros and cons of this interconnectedness. Overall, does it add resilience, or risk?

The movie did an excellent job of laying out some of the key problems we face, but I think the most important observation in the film came from Kathryn Sorensen, director of Phoenix’s water department. Phoenix’s water use is the same now as it was 20  years ago, even as its population has grown substantially. This represents a really hopeful part of the Southwest water story, as all the region’s major cities are using less water, conserving and learning to adapt in the face of scarce supplies.

Norman Vigil

Question: Arizona is a “Junior Partner” among the Lower Basin States to the Colorado River Compact. Pat Mulroy expressed the opinion that California’s inability to work collaboratively and share shortages is a big reason for the depth of problems on the Colorado River System. Here in New Mexico, shortage sharing has long been a key aspect of our acequia-based culture. Is there something we could teach the Colorado River Managers in general, and those in California in particular, about shortage sharing?

The answer is obvious – of course we can.  The concept of water sharing dates back thousands of years and within recent times the establishment of the Americas and specifically Northern New Mexico.  Having said that how practical or ethical or probable would that be.  Ethical – in terms of sharing resources for the betterment of the Human race and the neighborly thing to do we should have a process in place.  I personally believe we could develop a practical, orderly process.  When we approach the probable scenario it is unlikely given the western approach of “Priority System.”  The priority system establishes the pecking order, if you may, with regards to water administration during times of water scarcity/drought.  However, if we use the approach of “repartamiento” that acequias in Northern New Mexico and perhaps in other parts of the world implement during times of water scarcity as an alternative to the priority system. Not intended to rewrite the water laws but as an agreement so as to not implement the priority system  That could improve the odds from not highly probable to possible and probable.  If not,  the other alternative is this – after studying water cycles (droughts) we tend to operate and manage available water on wet cycles.  The opposite should be the case, operate and manage on dry cycles.  The reality is that our watersheds have the potential to provide all water users with a certain amount of water and no more.  It’s not that we have water shortages but rather the use of water is greater than the water being produced by our watersheds.  We can manage our watersheds to sustain water production and maintain their resiliency but drought, fires and increasing water demand will have a major impact on the direction and choices we make in the very near future.

Caroline Scruggs

Question: The movie emphasized the ways that Israel has used seawater desalination and water reuse to alleviate its water shortage. “What do you think about the “silver bullets” of desalination and water reuse that were presented in the film? Could they be “silver bullets” for us?

When considering desalination and water reuse in NM, the situation here is somewhat more complicated than discussed in the film. NM has large, untapped brackish groundwater reserves, and exploitation of this resource is becoming feasible due to improvements in technology. However, desalination is not a silver bullet for NM because of potential negative environmental consequences, the challenges related to disposal of the concentrated waste stream, and the finite nature of the resource (unlike the ocean in the film), which would make its continuous use unsustainable. Potable water reuse definitely holds promise for NM’s future, assuming that the appropriate technologies, monitoring, and regulations are in place to ensure public health; water rights and compacts would also have to be considered.

Katherine Yuhas

Question: In the discussion of potential “silver bullets”, it was mentioned that the amount of water than can be saved through conservation is “not enough to cover future growth”. Do we want to use that water to “cover future growth”? How would doing so affect our resilience in times of drought?

In answering the question, I showed a graph which shows that despite growth of 65% since 1995, overall water use has declined 22% and GPCD (gallons per capita per day) use has declined 49%.   In our service area, conservation has been a “silver bullet” – not that it can solve all of our water resource challenges on its own, but it is a key part of any water resource supply strategy.   In Water 2120, our recently updated Water Resources Management Strategy, we have implemented a new water conservation goal of 110 GPCD in 20 years.   This reduction will reduce our overall demand by over 50,000 AF per year at the end of our 100 year planning period.

Alan Webber

Question: In another place, a speaker talked about how naive we are to think that we can have perpetual growth. How can we best manage our use of water and our economy?

I think about water, growth and New Mexico’s economy as an un-tapped opportunity for our state (no pun intended). There are two ways to create value: by taking advantage of something you have a surplus of or by taking advantage of something you have a scarcity of. We have a surplus of renewable energy and we ought to be exporting solar- and wind-produced energy to create good jobs in New Mexico and promote our future as the country’s most sustainable state. We have a scarcity of water, and we ought to be exporting water management technology, water planning expertise and water management knowledge to other states and the rest of the world—because managing water is not only a New Mexico issue and a Western United States issues, it’s a global issue. We have more experience with water issues than any state in the country, and we should put that knowledge to work, not only to create a better environmental future here, but also to create a better economic future.

Steve Harris

Question: The movie emphasizes the challenges in meeting human consumptive water supply needs. Can you talk about other needs for this water, such as to support river dynamics, river and riparian ecology, and non-consumptive recreational uses?

If future society is to enjoy wild rivers, a balance between human and ecosystem water needs will have to be found.  As media and public focus mainly on conservation/efficiencies to solve human supply-demand dilemma, the opportunity to manage a portion of the rivers’ water for rivers will diminish.  Now is the moment to raise this issue, which has great spiritual, not just economic importance.

Mike Hamman

Question: The premise of the movie seems to be that Federal reservoirs on the Colorado River, which store multiple years of snowpack runoff, have created a “mirage” that convinces us of the endless abundance of our water supply. Pat Mulroy says the reservoirs are there to “keep the system from crashing”, which they have done on the Colorado, and to a lesser degree have done in the Rio Grande system. In the Rio Grande Basin in New Mexico, we have smaller reservoirs, each of which (including our Colorado River Supply in Heron Reservoir) has already reached a limit in terms of the water that can be delivered downstream. Since we have already “been to the other side”, what do we have to teach the Colorado Basin?

The upper Rio Grande basin has its own unique water management issues that are guided by the Rio Grande Compact administered by the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas that differs from the Colorado River Compact that is administered by the Secretary of Interior.  The federal relationship on the Rio Grande has been to provide specifically authorized projects that “fit in” to the Compact to assist states with Compact compliance and flood control as well as assisting in more recently meeting endangered species issues.  Due to limited storage and a history of struggles in meeting Compact and ESA related operating rules, we have learned to “live within our means” with plans and infrastructure developed to prepare for shortages predicted through climate change modeling so the message to the Colorado basin is that the “new normal” requires comprehensive water conservation planning and building flexibility into basin operational authorities to help adapt to changing water supply conditions.

Laura McCarthy

Question: The movie emphasizes how these reservoirs are structures to help us manage our snowpack, and its variation from year to year. Can you address the relationship between our land management and the development and maintenance of the snowpack that creates our water supply?

Our water originates as mountain snowpack. Forests in the mountains are in an overgrown condition and have impaired function to accumulate snowpack, store water, and release water. Catastrophic fires that will further damage watershed function is an increasing possibility. Therefore, restoring forests is a strategy for water security.

PANELIST BIOGRAPHIES

Mike Hamman

Mike Hamman is the CEO/ Chief Engineer at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Mike has a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of New Mexico and has worked for Bureau of Reclamation and served as regional water planner for the Interstate Stream Commission.

Laura McCarthy

Laura McCarthy is Director of Conservation Programs for the Nature Conservancy in New Mexico and leads the Rio Grande Water Fund. Laura’s prior work includes more than a decade with the USDA Forest Service as a firefighter and planner. She has also worked for a State Forester and the Santa Fe-based Forest Guild.

John Fleck

John Fleck is Director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program. He is the author of Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths About Water in the West, published Sept. 1, 2016 by Island Press.

Norman Vigil

Norman Vigil is a retired NRCS employee after 36 years. He attended NMSU majoring in Range Science and has worked in Wyoming from 1982-2000.  He returned to NM in 2000 with work assignments in North Dakota, Nevada and Washington DC.  Born and raised in Canjilon, NM and returned to live there forever after, he is currently employed by New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts as a Program Manager.

Caroline Scruggs

Caroline Scruggs is an Assistant Professor in CRP’s Natural Resources and Environmental Planning concentration, and has a background in environmental science, engineering, and policy. She has ten years of consulting experience on water quality projects around the world. Caroline has also written numerous articles in professional and peer-reviewed journals.

Katherine Yuhas

Katherine Yuhas is theWater Resources Division Manager for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. She was the county hydrologist for Santa Fe County, New Mexico and has worked with the New Mexico Environment Department, contributing to ground water protection and remediation.

Alan Webber

Alan Webber is an entrepreneur, writer, and concerned New Mexican who ran for Governor of New Mexico. He is the founder of One New Mexico a nonprofit focused on bringing together people and ideas around economic development in New Mexico.

Steve Harris

Steve Harris is a long time river advocate and founder of Far Flung Adventures an advocacy based rafting company in New Mexico. Steve is the Executive Director of Rio Grande Restoration, a nonprofit centered around fostering balanced and harmonious use of the river among existing human water users.