Western states can settle dispute over besieged Rio Grande

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — The battle between Texas and New Mexico over control of one of the longest rivers in North America could be nearing an end as a date to resume the trial has been postponed pending negotiations targeting are settling the years-long case before the US Supreme Court.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that a special master appointed by the court was paving the way for ongoing negotiations and set a July date for a status update.

The Supreme Court would have to approve any agreement between the states. In the event of a deadlock, the process would continue later this year.

“We’ve assembled the nation’s best legal and scientific team to disprove that our farmers and our communities owe Texas billions in damages, and we’re now on the brink of a thrilling landmark settlement agreement that will put New Mexico’s waters for the will protect future generations. Balderas said in a statement.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to questions about the negotiations or a potential settlement.

The battle for the Rio Grande has become a multimillion-dollar affair in a region where water supplies are dwindling due to increased demand, along with drought and warmer temperatures due to climate change.

The river through parts of New Mexico marked another record low flow this year, prompting some farmers to voluntarily vomit fields to help the state meet downstream obligations imposed by water distribution agreements dating back decades.

Texas has argued that pumping groundwater in southern New Mexico reduces the river’s flow and decreases the amount of water crossing the border. New Mexico states that it is deficient in its share of the river.

The first phase of the trial was completed last fall, with testimonies from farmers, hydrologists, irrigation managers and others. More technical testimonials would be part of the next phase.

Robust start to monsoon season has given the Rio Grande some respite after state and federal water authorities had warned that parts of the river closer to Albuquerque were likely to dry up this summer as the mega drought continues in New Mexico.

Tricia Snyder, the interim wild rivers program director for the WildEarth Guardians group, said policymakers need to fundamentally rethink how to manage and value river systems.

“Like many watersheds in the American West, we are approaching a crisis point,” she said. “Climate change is sharpening the cracks in Western water management and policy and the unsustainable water allocation they contain.”

Snyder and others have said the status quo has led to water resources being tapped 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 about how to live within means of a river.

The last federal card shows that about three-quarters of the western US experiences some degree of drought. That’s less than three months ago. But federal agricultural officials reported Tuesday that weekly precipitation 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 was 25% or less than normal. This has had consequences for cotton and hay crops, but also for cattle and sheep herds.

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