Our underlying premise is that water management in the state has made insufficient use
of mechanisms that would signal users about the true value of water. The first impediment is that
water is often free to the user, or provided at prices that are inconsequential for users. This is in
large part due to the lack of adjudication of water rights. In fact, users may not even have
information about how much water they are using. A water conservation charge should be
levied on all surface and groundwater diversions. The revenues from this fee will be designated
to purchase and lease water for environmental purposes, accelerate the adjudication process, and
to assist with payment for water conservation measures. This water conservation charge will
have the added benefit of reducing our consumption of water.
Second, state and local governments need to aggressively address water use through a
combination of measures, including water pricing reform, water metering, controls on new wells,
increasing the ability of sellers to transfer conserved water, and creating protection for the
ecology of streams and rivers. Many of the current uses of water have a low economic value,
meaning that change should not injure current users because new users should compensate
current users. In other western states, the state or other institutions often act to facilitate these
transfers and to devise conditions to protect communities of origin.
Finally, our current system of water administration does not acknowledge the public
values (common goods) in New Mexico’s rivers and streams. Albuquerque’s Bosque, the trees
and the river, provides a well known example of a resource that “belongs” to everyone in the
area, in the sense that it is a natural resource that defines and enriches the community.
Nonetheless, western water law makes it very difficult to protect these public values. This paper
proposes that state and federal funding be devoted to defining and acquiring water rights for
instream use and to protect natural resources and similar public areas.