“Pray for Drought”

Not exactly the concluding words you’d expect at a gathering of New Mexico’s water masterminds.  But at this year’s statewide meeting of the New Mexico Water Dialogue, amid all the talk of acre feet, appropriative rights model water codes, pipelines, contracts and all that wata’ yada yada, the underlying message was clear: something has to be done, and fast.  The Western US is already using more water than there is, there has not been comprehensive reform of the water rights system in New Mexico since 1907, and we are far behind our neighbors in terms of getting existing rights sorted out and written down.

In his keynote address, Judge Matt Reynolds forecasted the “Great Drought of the 21st Century” as right around the corner (assuming, perhaps optimistically, that we’re not already in it) and painted a picture of an already-backlogged court system groaning under the weight of new claims sparked by sudden scarcity.  He described New Mexico’s water code as a plumbing system that people have been tinkering with on and off for a century.  “No wonder we’re not done,” he said.  “It’s time to end the cycle of apathy in wet years and panic in dry.”

Ah, but there’s nothing like good old-fashioned panic to get the gears turning. Another speaker, John Fleck with the Albuquerque Journal, did his best to inject a sunny streak into the gloom by recounting the story of California: a state suddenly forced onto a water diet after decades of gluttony.  Amazingly, it worked.  As Fleck pointed out, “Los Angeles is still there.”  Where there’s a bludgeon, there’s a way.

And that’s why, when the day’s final speaker, UNM’s Bruce Thomson, concluded his talk with the words “Pray for Drought,” he was met not with boos or heckles, but with the crowd’s dark laughter.  “Only catastrophe is going to force us to sit down and figure out how to live within our means.”  After decades of watching people pass the buck, this is a crowd that gets the joke.  If it’s a joke.

Join us next week on the KUNM Call-In Show for a discussion of what some say could be one part of the solution: recycling wastewater.  January 19th at 8 AM.


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