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New Mexico and Texas dispute over shared waters continues

Water and political wars

We like to think that the relations between the 50 states are harmonious. However, it is not always the case and access to water resources is a good example of issues leading to serious disputes between several states. These legal disputes between the states are often described as "water wars." This is not surprising though as there is no doubt that water is the most important resource when it comes to sustaining both human life and economic growth. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing we can do without access to water.

 

This can explain why some states are fighting with each other when it comes to access to water. One ongoing dispute is between Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. In 2013, Texas filed a complaint against Colorado and New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court. "Texas alleges that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater connected to the river, the state is unfairly taking water from the Rio Grande that, under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, should be flowing to Texas.” In February 2017, the Special Master issued an interim report recommending that “that the United States Supreme Court deny the Motion to Dismiss by New Mexico and the Motions to Intervene by El Paso County Water Improvement District No.1 and Elephant Butte Irrigation District.” The next step in the case is for the Special Master to adopt a case management plan, which will determine the timeline for addressing the substantive legal question presented to the Court.

 

The case

The water war actually taking place between Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico is based on the fact that Texas believes New Mexico is taking more water than it is owed under the interstate water compact governing the Rio Grande. Colorado is a party in this case simply because it is also governed by the Rio Grande Compact. Texas alleges that New Mexico's increasing water withdrawals are having "both a direct and indirect effect on Texas’ ability to obtain the water the Compact apportioned to it.” As an upstream state, the more New Mexico withdraws, the less flows downstream to Texas. The ultimate decision by the Court will have legal and economic consequences. For example, a Texas win “could force some southern New Mexico cotton, pecan and chile farmers to stop pumping groundwater,” and thus potentially go out of business.

 

These wars are far from being over

As we see droughts and increasing water needs throughout the United States, there is no doubt that we will continue seeing disputes over water. The water war discussed in this post is not over, and there is no doubt that we will see new water wars between states emerging in the coming years and decades. It will be interesting to see the Supreme Court decision in the coming months, especially as it will likely have an important effect on the future water conflicts between other states.

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