December 26, 2018

2018 Top Stories #3: Supreme Court Showdown between TX and NM

Laura Paskus

Elephant Butte Reservoir at 3.7 percent capacity in mid-September

Note: All week we will be counting down the top ten stories of 2018, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. See them all here as they come in!

If New Mexico loses in the U.S. Supreme Court showdown against Texas over the waters of the Rio Grande, the state could owe a billion dollars or more and also be required to halt or restrict groundwater pumping.

In the meantime, New Mexico has been spending millions of dollars fighting the lawsuit.

Now approaching its seventh year, No. 141, Original: Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, blew up out of a deal two irrigation districts signed with the federal government during the drought of the 2000s.

In 2008, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 signed a new agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Rio Grande Project, which is anchored by Elephant Butte Reservoir. But the two states weren’t parties to that agreement—and then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued the federal government, alleging too much water was being given to Texas. In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado, saying New Mexico had for decades taken more than its legal share of water under the Rio Grande Compact of 1938.

In January, attorneys for the four parties appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. As if the suit weren’t urgent enough, New Mexico’s dropping reservoir and groundwater levels aren’t helping farmers feel any more secure about their futures.  

The case is expected to go to trial in the fall of 2020, and we’ll definitely keep covering the lawsuit, how much the state is spending on attorneys and studies and how a new governor handles the situation.

To read all our coverage on Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado: