Rio Woes: Texas’ Lawsuit Against NM over the Waters of the Rio Grande Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court

From Colorado to Mexico, communities siphon and spread water from the Rio Grande. For about a century, every drop of that water has been divvied up among cities and farmers. It’s not unusual to stand alongside an irrigation ditch in New Mexico and hear someone complain that too much water is flowing to Texas. But, in fact, Texas stands on solid ground in its lawsuit against New Mexico over the Rio Grande, oral arguments for which are scheduled for January in the U.S. Supreme Court.

If New Mexico loses, southern farmers will take a hit—and so will the state budget. New Mexico could owe billions of dollars in damages (even “just” a $1 billion dollar fine would mean almost 20 percent the entire state budget), and southern farmers could be forced to curtail groundwater pumping. Already, in just four years, New Mexico has spent about $15 million on the case.

The problem started about 10 years ago when Texas argued that by allowing southern farmers to pump groundwater, which is hydrologically connected to the Rio Grande, New Mexico wasn’t sending enough water downstream. To work things out, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) and a Texas irrigation district signed a new water agreement based on sharing during dry times. But in 2011, then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued the bureau, saying too much water was going to Texas. In 2013, Texas fired back with its own lawsuit.

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