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Energy and ClimateECClimateSandia, the Atlantic Council, and NM Water Resource Research Institute Sponsor Roundtable on Western Water Scarcity

Sandia, the Atlantic Council, and NM Water Resource Research Institute Sponsor Roundtable on Western Water Scarcity

The Rio Grande river is one of the primary freshwater resources for New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico. It is subject to international treaty regulation and demands from agriculture, municipalities, and industry. Properly (and sustainably) managing this resource is essential to the survival of a large portion of the southwest.

The Rio Grande river is one of the primary freshwater resources for New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico. It is subject to international treaty regulation and demands from agriculture, municipalities, and industry. Properly (and sustainably) managing this resource is essential to the survival of a large portion of the southwest.

Sandia, the Atlantic Council, and NM WRRI presented “Transformational Solutions for Water in the West,” September 5th at the UNM Student Union Building. More than two hundred participants examined the projected gap between western U.S. water supply and demand and explored potential “transformational” solutions from the perspectives of technology and policy (or both) and discussed their associated risks and costs. The key questions of the day were:

  • Is it true that we are not on track to meet future water demand, and does it matter?
  • Are there transformational solutions that can help us change that trajectory in a nonlinear way so that we will be able to meet future demand?
  • If so, to what extent do these solutions only shift the gap from water to some other resource?
  • If there are no transformational solutions that don’t just shift the gap, what are we going to do?

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry gave the keynote introduction, New Mexico State Engineer Scott Verhines make brief keynote comments in the afternoon, and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) delivered the keynote speech and moderated a panel that explored ways to address the future supply/demand issues.

Senator Udall moderates a panel, “Strong Medicine: Considering a Greater Federal Role in Water Management,” at the water roundtable. Pictured are, from left to right, Ben Ruddell (Assistant Professor, Arizona State University); Reed Benson (Chair, Natural Resources Committee, University of New Mexico Law School); Vincent Tidwell (Distinguished Member, Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories); and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM).

Senator Udall moderates a panel, “Strong Medicine: Considering a Greater Federal Role in Water Management,” at the water roundtable. Pictured are, from left to right, Ben Ruddell (Assistant Professor, Arizona State University); Reed Benson (Chair, Natural Resources Committee, University of New Mexico Law School); Vincent Tidwell (Distinguished Member, Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories); and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM).

In his keynote address, Senator Udall highlighted a white paper recently posted to his website, which includes several key points, and about which he elaborated:

  • Water information is lacking—especially for groundwater. Even worse, water information is at risk of being lost. Federal funding cuts are putting America’s streamgage network at risk.
  • There is great untapped potential for water conservation. But a key question that often goes unanswered is: where do the water savings go? If they allow more water use elsewhere, then no water has been conserved, and, in fact, that “hardening” of demand makes  the system even less resilient to future shortages.
  • One of the ideas explored in the white paper is a “smart water” infrastructure: systems and sensors that will be able to determine drops in water pressure, that can identify leaks and breaks immediately, or even before they occur, investments that save utilities and water users both water and money—and reduce emissions from wasted energy.
  • The goal is to build a long-term water supply and to ensure we have a living river that can meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act but avoid draconian regulatory actions.

Seventeen other speakers from New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and California discussed what they proposed as transformational ideas—including urban conservation; domestic reuse of wastewater; different river, bosque, and agriculture management strategies; water transfers; federalization of Western water management; and even changes to the language used to discuss (or describe) water management.

The roundtable was organized by Sandia’s Water Security Program and moderated by Marianne Walck (Director of Sandia’s Geoscience, Climate, and Consequence Effects Center and Deputy Director of Sandia’s Climate Security Program) and Rob Leland (Director of Sandia’s Climate Security Program).

Read the article by John Fleck in the Albuquerque Journal.

Read a transcript of Senator Udall’s keynote address in The Grant County Beat.

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