To save an iconic river and to spark the fundamental changes necessary to create a more flexible, resilient system of water storage and management, we recommend the following next steps:

  1. Congress must direct and fund the National Academy of Sciences to review all existing data and identify all existing resources (models, studies, climate data, etc.) in order to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all alternatives associated with relocating low-elevation storage in high-elevation reservoirs in the Rio Grande Basin in New Mexico. A draft scope of work is included as Appendix B to this report.
  2. As water savings are evaluated, Congress needs to obtain a commitment from Basin stakeholders, or it needs to legislate such a commitment that water saved through integrated reservoir management will serve to right the historic injustices to the river and its associated ecosystems and be dedicated to protecting and restoring the river’s health.
  3. The Rio Grande Compact Commission and its three commissioners should identify the policy and legal reforms necessary to modernize the Compact and ensure that all three states can adapt to the water scarcity that is the reality of our times. The Compact must essentially be rewritten or administered to include flexibilities, or it will be a tool that drives crisis instead of a tool that resolves conflict.
  4. The San Juan-Chama Project contractors, led by the Albuquerque-Bernalillo Water Utility Authority, which is already using reservoirs in an integrated fashion, should support federal reoperation and reauthorization of reservoirs.
  5. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should proactively evaluate what current legal authorities exist to operate all Upper Basin reservoirs in a more integrated fashion.
  6. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) and El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 (EPW#1) should support the comprehensive study to evaluate reservoir reallocation to conserve water. EBID and EPW#1 should determine the assurances (e.g., policies or agreements) necessary for them to support such operational changes to the system.
  7. The EBID and EPW#1 need to determine and consent to a modified delivery schedule for Rio Grande Project water that conserves the most water by storing it upstream while still meeting its obligations to its stakeholders.
  8. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District needs to provide assurances to Reclamation, EBID, EPW#1, the State of New Mexico, and Mexico (through the International Boundary and Water Commission)—in the form of efficiency improvements, proposed metering and monitoring, or other measures—that any Rio Grande Project or other Compact water transported downstream is not diverted and/or consumed by the District.

To save an iconic river and spark fundamental changes necessary to create a more flexible, resilient system of water storage and management, the very way of thinking about water must evolve into 21st century solutions.