Implementing our vision of conserving water in the 21st century by moving reservoir storage upstream and managing our reservoirs in an integrated fashion will require navigating both institutional and legal challenges. Each of the six Rio Grande reservoirs mentioned was authorized individually and has very specific congressional rules associated with its historic purpose and function. This section will discuss the congressional reauthorizations necessary to change how and where water is stored and released. Further, other institutional approvals will be needed from entities like the Rio Grande Compact Commission to implement this new system of water storage and conservation.

Table 2. Institutional and legal hurdles for reallocation of reservoir storage and integrated management.

Reservoir Limitations Authorization/Approval Required Benefits
Heron
  • San Juan-Chama Project storage ONLY
  • Storage only for San Juan-Chama contractors 
  • NO carryover storage by San Juan-Chama contractors
  • Subject to Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact
  • Native Rio Grande water storage
  • Renegotiation of contracts to allow carryover storage in Heron
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of native water storage
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of exception to Article VII storage limitation
  • 15,000 acre-feet per year high-elevation native storage
  • Less evaporation of native and San Juan-Chama water
  • Flexibility in Basin-wide reservoir management
  • More water upstream to create environmental benefits
El Vado
  • Subject to Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact
  • Must ensure space to store “prior and paramount” water for the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of exception to Article VII storage limitation
  • Less evaporation of native and San Juan-Chama water
  • Flexibility in basin-wide reservoir management
  • More water upstream to create environmental benefits
Abiquiu
  • Permanent storage pool of San Juan-Chama water is currently limited to 200,000 acre-feet
  • Storage easements only acquired up to an elevation of 6,220 feet (allowing 200,000 acre-feet)
  • Subject to Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact if storing native water
  • Channel capacity of Rio Chama is 1,800 cfs
  • Amendment of contract between Corps and Water Utility Authority
  • Acquisition of permanent flowage easements to cover increase in elevation from 6,220 feet to 6,305 feet
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of storing native Rio Grande Project water upstream
  • Confirmation by Corps that adding up to 467,000 acre-feet of storage would not impact flood control mandate
  • Environmental review of proposed changes
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of exception to Article VII storage limitation
  • 467,000 acre-feet of additional high altitude storage
  • Less evaporation than downstream reservoirs
  • Flexibility in Basin-wide reservoir management
Cochiti
  • Infrastructure located on Pueblo of Cochiti lands
  • Authorized for flood control purposes
  • Subject to Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact if storing native water
  • Reauthorization to allow permanent and temporary storage or reregulation of native Rio Grande water
  • ONLY reservoir on main stem of Rio Grande
  • Provides opportunity for reregulation of Rio Grande flows
  • Serves as alternative for channel capacity limitation of 1,800 cfs on Rio Chama
Elephant Butte
  • Extremely high evaporation losses that increase at a greater rate than incremental storage
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of storing Rio Grande Project water upstream of Elephant Butte
  • Facilitates delivery of Rio Grande Project water to downstream users
Caballo
  • Significant evaporation losses
  • Rio Grande Compact Commission approval of storing Rio Grande Project water upstream of Caballo
  • Facilities power generation and delivery of water downstream

Each of the six Rio Grande reservoirs mentioned was authorized individually and has very specific congressional rules associated with its historic purpose and function. In addition to the institutional hurdles, the politics and stakeholder interest in the Middle Rio Grande have for years stymied progress toward implementation of this solution.

In addition to the institutional hurdles described above, the politics and stakeholder interest in the Middle Rio Grande have for years stymied progress toward implementation of this solution. For example, the 2005 WAMS report was going to include much more than the three-page appendix providing an overview and recommendation regarding the water savings of moving Elephant Butte storage upstream and planned to include actual modeling of a variety of alternatives using the Corps' URGWOM model.38 However, operating by consensus, individual stakeholders in the basin killed further exploration of each of the alternatives one-by-one as follows:   

  • Alternative No. 1 - Reauthorization or Reregulation of Cochiti Lake. Eliminated from the study because the Pueblo of Cochiti was not ready to discuss.
  • Alternative No. 2 - Alternative Storage Strategies for Rio Grande Project Water. Killed by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission due to Rio Grande Compact-related concerns.
  • Alternative No. 3 - Evaluation of Timing and Delivery of Closed Basin water from Colorado. Shut down because of a "commitment”" by New Mexico to not seek any contributions from Colorado to aid in delivering water to endangered species.
  • Alternative No. 4 - Voluntary Agricultural Forbearance. Opposed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District based on a litany of reasons, including that the District did not want to act on forbearance without a completed feasibility study.
  • Alternative No. 5 - Retention of Water in Abiquiu Reservoir in lieu of release to Elephant Butte. Resisted by the City of Albuquerque due to potential change in operations at Abiquiu without evaluating other options.
  • Alternative No. 6 - Storing program-acquired supplemental water in Heron Reservoir saving evaporation losses. Overruled by the City of Albuquerque because contract amendment to service contracts would be required, and because of possible implications to authorizing legislation of the San Juan-Chama Project and compacts on the Colorado River.
  • Alternative No. 7 - Change in storage and operation of El Vado Reservoir. Not fully developed, but determined “fruitless” because of elimination of other alternatives.

This model run was merely an exercise to determine what water savings might exist and examine the challenges that the subcommittee would face in implementation, but it in no way changed the status quo other than providing information on alternatives. The fact that even this cursory analysis was eliminated without serious consideration shows the uphill political battle that such an analysis will face even if it is merely a hypothetical investigation.