That was the question posed by Fred Phillips of New Mexico Tech in his keynote address at the 2013 meeting of the New Mexico Academy of Sciences. The full title of his talk was, 'New Mexico's Dwindling Water Supply: Can We Solve a 21st Century Problem using 19th Century Laws?'.
I do not have the entire talk but here is the abstract:
Predicting changes in precipitation in the Southwestern U.S. under continuously warming climate is an uncertain proposition, but predicting change in the water balance is not. As climate warms, the water balance becomes less favorable and the renewable water supply decreases. New Mexico has fully allocated its water resources under the present climate, but as the 21st century progresses, the water supply will dwindle while the population increases. Something has to give. The laws governing water management in New Mexico were placed in the State Constitution in 1907. The principle of those laws is that water in its natural state belongs to the people of the state, but they reflect the zeitgeist of that period, which was to encourage rapid expansion of irrigated agriculture and to make sure that the rights to water withdrawal thus established would be firmly protected. As the intervening 106 years have passed, the public’s perception of what they want to accomplish with New Mexico’s limited supply of water has changed, but the fundamental laws have not. There is no longer any unappropriated renewable water, and thus putting water to any new use, such as growth in urban population, necessarily involves taking it away from existing users, or from the environment. Equitable reapportionment that is responsive to the interests of the 21st century public requires a system of water management that is flexible and responsive to a changing environment, but the state is operating within the straightjacket of a 19th century water code whose principal objective is to prevent change. Australia and South Africa offer examples of nations who have radically changed their water codes. New Mexico should look to them for inspiration in solving its ongoing water crisis.
Phillips has long been an outstanding hydrogeologist-hydrogeochemist. I am interested (but glad) to see him venture into this contentious area. I'm sure it's not lost on him that South Africa and Australia are different from the US, but it is still worthwhile to broach the topic. The title of his presentation is spot-on.
You can download the proceedings here from the December 13 issue of the New Mexico Journal of Science (abtracts only):
Here are a few more abstracts of interest:
Economics of Drought in the Middle Rio Grande: A System Dynamics Modeling Approach
Dadhi Adhikari, University of New Mexico
Dr. Janie Chermak, University of New Mexico
Vincent Tidwell, Sandia National Laboratories
The timing and severity of drought may severely impact water availability, especially in semi-arid climates like the American Southwest. We develop a dynamic optimization model to show an adverse impact of drought on aquifer volume. We further construct a System Dynamics model that simultaneously considers the physical hydrology in the Middle Rio Grande, the engineered water management system (Roach 2008), and a behavioral model of residential water demand, we consider the residential water use for the cities of Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe, New Mexico over a 50 year time horizon. We find that droughts that occur in later periods when we have larger populations have larger impacts and the duration of the drought is important. This impacts not only humanconsumption, but also the aquifer level. While alternative policies can provide some relief, the type of policy, the severity of that policy, and the timing of drought are important—as may be the form of economic growth in an area. We estimate economic impacts of the alternative scenarios. Given some of the forecasts of severe and multiple drought in the SW in the coming years, management tools that consider a longer-term time horizon may provide adequate time to develop more robust policies.~~~~~~~~~~~Economics of Drought in the Middle Rio Grande: A System Dynamics Modeling ApproachBrandon Bridge, University of New Mexico
Dr. Janie Chermak, University of New MexicoAbstract
Many areas around the world are experiencing increased stress on their water resources. Much of this stress is concentrated in arid and semi-arid regions, which are particularly ill-suited to deal with this difficulty. In both the developing and the developed world alike; shortages and poor water quality, along with growing populations and increased demand for agricultural production, create areas susceptible to water-related crises. Much of this crisis stems from the depletion of aquifers in water stressed areas. Many of these aquifers are being depleted due to mismanagement and common-pool resource problems. This paper provides a theoretical framework for the optimal management of a transboundary aquifer. This framework observes the problem as a dynamic game of two agents while allowing for asymmetry in benefit and cost functions of groundwater use. We find that groundwater savings will likely result from a cooperative scenario. A case study is examined in the Middle Rio Grande basin in northcentral New Mexico. Systems dynamics modeling is used to simulate coordinated management of aquifer pumping between two cities. It is found that coordinated price increase between the cities of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque can conserve between 600,000–1 million acre-feet of groundwater over the next 30 years. It is also found that coordinated strategies can reduce aquifer drawdown by over 70 feet in some areas of the basin.
Looks like it was a very informative meeting.
My answer to question in the title if this post? Probably not, but we need to try.
Thanks to Bob Wessely for sending this my way.
"The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them." - Albert Einstein (thanks to Faruck Morcos)