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IMPROVING NEW MEXICO’S WATER MANAGEMENT - page 37 / 47

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against flood waters that protects the levies from deterioration. This forest is a natural resource

that New Mexico can scarcely afford to squander, but it is in deep peril. As indicated earlier, the

Bosque along the middle Rio Grande is approximately 37,000 acres of riparian habitat.

Originally, cottonwood was the dominant plant species, but invader species of salt cedar and

Russian Olive have replaced large sections. One interesting note is that the consumptive water

use of cottonwood is less than salt cedar, so simply removing salt cedar and allowing

cottonwoods to return would decrease water use by the Bosque and add water to the stream

channel. If the Bosque were managed to maintain the original cottonwood forest, the Bosque

would have a consumptive use of 136,000 aft. But consider the SEO. This water use is not

currently defined as beneficial use. With incomplete adjudication in the Rio Grande and during

periods of drought, the office must somehow allocate water and meet Compact obligations.

During a period of sustained drought, when claimants to available water are pitted against each

other, it would be extremely temping to take the water from the trees by cutting them down.

There is no protection against this and it has already occurred along the reach of the Rio Grande

from Elephant Butte Dam to the Texas border and over on the Pecos River.

New Mexico needs to adjudicate its surface and groundwater. But expedited

adjudications will require financial commitment. This is the purpose of the proposed water

conservation fee.

Water Conservation

During the process of adjudication, it is important that New Mexico water users conserve

water as much as is economically feasible. Water conservation really should only be undertaken

if it makes economic sense and there are many water conservation proposals that do not. For

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