ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — The fight between Texas and New Mexico over the management of one of North America’s longest rivers may be coming to an end as the date for the resumption of the trial has been postponed in the awaiting negotiations to settle the years-long case before the United States Supreme Court.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that a court-appointed special counsel has paved the way for ongoing negotiations and set a July date for a status update.
The Supreme Court would have to approve any agreement reached by the states. In the event of a stalemate, the trial would continue later this year.
“We have assembled the best legal and scientific team in the country to refute that our farmers and communities owe Texas billions in damages, and we are now on the verge of reaching an exciting historic settlement agreement that will protect the water of the New -Mexico for generations to come. ,” Balderas said in a statement.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the negotiations or a possible settlement.
The battle over the Rio Grande has become a multimillion-dollar affair in a region with dwindling water supplies due to increased demand as well as drought and warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.
The river through swathes of New Mexico has seen low flows again this year, prompting some farmers to voluntarily lay fields fallow to help the state meet downstream obligations imposed by sharing pacts of water that date back decades.
Texas argued that groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico is reducing river flow and reducing the amount of water that crosses the border. New Mexico maintains that it was bypassed on its part of the river.
The first phase of the trial was completed last fall, with testimonials from farmers, hydrologists, irrigation managers and others. More technical testimonials were to be part of the next phase.
A robust start to the monsoon season gave the Rio Grande some respite after state and federal water managers warned that stretches of the river closer to Albuquerque would likely dry up this summer as New Mexico’s mega-drought continues.
Tricia Snyder, acting wild rivers program director for the WildEarth Guardians group, said policymakers need to fundamentally rethink how river systems are managed and valued.
“Like many river basins throughout the American West, we are approaching a point of crisis,” she said. “Climate change highlights the cracks in Western water management and policy and the unsustainable allocation of water therein.”
Snyder and others said the status quo has depleted water resources in the West and that all users — from cities and industry to farmers and Native American tribes — will need a seat. at the table in future discussions on how to live within the means of a river.
The latest federal map shows that about three-quarters of the western United States faces some level of drought. That was less than three months ago. But federal agriculture officials reported Tuesday that weekly rainfall accumulations for several locations were still well below average.
In New Mexico, the driest areas were on the eastern side of the state, where precipitation totaled 25% of normal or less. This affected cotton and hay crops as well as cattle and sheep herds.