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  1. How is water use distributed in New Mexico?
  2. What causes a drought?
  3. Is drought abnormal for New Mexico?
  4. What happens if the drought returns?
  5. What is “priority administration”?
  6. What is Active Water Resource Management (AWRM)?
  7. Why is “priority administration” necessary? Are there other alternatives?
  8. Who are senior water right holders who have priority rights?
    Who are junior water right holders?
  9. What is a ”Water Master"?
  10. Why are “Water Masters” necessary?
  11. How are “Water Masters” funded?
  12. Why are measuring and metering necessary?
  13. Is there any hope in finding new sources of water?
  14. What can I do to help during this difficult time of drought?
  15. Where can we locate a purchase agreement for purchase of water rights?
  16. What are my water rights worth?
  17. How could I find out if there are water right appropriations available in a particular area?


1) Q: How is water use distributed in New Mexico?


A: Water in New Mexico is distributed among a variety of users, as the following pie chart indicates. About 6 percent goes to livestock, commercial, industrial, mining, and power companies; About 10 percent goes to public supplies and domestic use; About 7 percent is lost to evaporation; and about 77 percent goes to irrigated agriculture.




2) Q: What causes a drought?


A: Drought is nature’s way of reminding us that we live in a desert. New Mexico has been experiencing drought conditions for several years, which magnifies the challenge of balancing our limited water supplies with growing demand. A drought is caused by a variety of factors. Scientists who study climate changes believe that conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Eastern Pacific Ocean play a significant role in determining the amount of precipitation that New Mexico and the rest of the country receive. Studies show current conditions in those two oceans are similar to conditions that existed during the severe drought of the late 1940s and 1950s in New Mexico.


3) Q: Is drought abnormal for New Mexico?


A: Drought is a regular event in New Mexico. It visits the state in recurring cycles.

A major drought occurred in the 1950s, again in the 1970s, and most recently, in the latter part of the 1990s. If you look at a 2,000-year snapshot of rainfall and snowpack in New Mexico, drought is more the norm for this area than it is an anomaly. This is confirmed by tree-ring data, which indicates drought is a normal part of the cycle and that we may be headed for another extended drought period. During the 1980s, when New Mexicans enjoyed abnormally wet years, is when our state experienced tremendous growth in population.


4) Q: What happens if the drought returns?


A: Experts predict that drought conditions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

It will take many years of good snowpack and precipitation to restore reservoir levels to the state they were in before the drought. This presents a challenge for the State Engineer, whose job it is to manage water supplies for all New Mexicans. In a worst-case scenario, the State Engineer would have to make a priority call on certain river basins. Since New Mexico is a priority administration state, that means the first water users to put the water to beneficial use in the state or the more senior water rights have priority use over the more junior water rights. Water users need to be actively involved in the problem-solving process to find a way to share in the shortages and to discover other options during this time of drought.


5) Q: What is “priority administration”?


A: Priority administration refers to the temporary curtailment of junior water rights

in times of shortage, so that more senior water rights can be served by the available water supply. Having senior water rights means the first water users to “put the water to beneficial use” in our state. Under the state constitution, the senior water rights have priority. The steps currently being taken by the Office of the State Engineer to prepare for water rights administration are to implement Active Water Resource Management, which may include priority administration. All water users need to be actively involved in the problem-solving process during periods of shortages and to identify other options in response to drought. A “priority call” -- the mechanism for priority administration -- should be a measure of last resort.


6) Q: What is Active Water Resource Management (AWRM)?


A: Active Water Resource Management refers to a broad range of activities, which emphasize permitting transfers, monitoring and metering diversions, and limiting diversion of water to the amount authorized by existing water rights all within the prior appropriation system.

(Click here for more information about link Active Water Resource Management)


7) Q: Why is “priority administration” necessary? Are there other alternatives?


A: In the face of drought competing demand, diminishing resources, and good planning is crucial. Priority administration and beneficial use provide the basis for New Mexico water distribution. The state’s surface water supply and most of the groundwater supply is fully or over appropriated. If all the water right permits, licenses, and declarations were fully exercised today, current supply would not likely meet demand. Voluntary agreements among water users such as -- shortage sharing, rotation, water banking, or other forms of voluntary agreements -- are encouraged by the State Engineer. Full priority administration currently is done only on the Cimarron River and on Costilla Creek, in northeastern New Mexico. Priority administration is the tool for water rights administration within the state in times of drought.


8) Q: Who are senior water right holders who have priority rights?
Who are junior water right holders?


A: In New Mexico, the more senior water right holders typically include Native Americans, acequias, and agricultural water users. Junior water right holders typically include municipalities, as well as industrial, residential, and recreational water users.


9) Q: What is a ”Water Master”?


A: A “Water Master” hired by the State Engineer assures that water is fairly distributed in accordance with available water supply and priority dates. The State Engineer has the authority to create special water districts and provide water masters to specific rivers and allow for priority administration, if need be, without adjudication.


10) Q: Why are “Water Masters” necessary?


A: Water Masters serve an important function for the Office of the State Engineer because they are people in the field who would ensure that water is distributed to users equitably.


11) Q: How are “Water Masters” funded?


A: State law provides a means for funding of Water Masters. The law gives the State Engineer the authority to provide budgets of water use to the county or counties involved. The counties in-turn would place those water users on their tax rolls for the purpose of Water Master administration.


12) Q: Why are measuring and metering necessary?


A: Measuring and metering are critical components of adjudication, to help determine who uses what water and in what amount. Once water use has been clarified for senior water right holders like Pueblos and acequia owners, junior water right holders can better plan for their future needs.


13) Q: Is there any hope in finding new sources of water?


A: Desalination technology is proving to be very promising as a means to finding new sources of water. There is potential for potable water to be created from the state’s estimated supplies of about 15 billion acre-feet of brackish water. Since about 4 million acre-feet is the amount of water used annually by current water users, this could provide an abundant water supply for the future when the cost of such technology becomes more affordable. An expansive desalination demonstration pilot program is already in the planning stages for the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico. It can only be accomplished by working in partnership with our national laboratories, universities, and congressional delegation.


14) Q: What can I do to help during times of drought?


A: Using water wisely is important at any time in our state. However, water conservation during a drought becomes even more important. Conservation is important both at home and at work. Free conservation information can be accessed on our agency’s website.

Click here to access conservation information.


15) Q: Where can we locate a purchase agreement for purchase of water rights?


A:  The Office of the State Engineer does not sell water rights. Any agreement to purchase and sell water rights are drawn up between the buyer and the seller. A water attorney in your area can help draw up these documents.


16) Q:
What are my water rights worth?

A: The Office of the State Engineer can not tell you what individual water rights are worth. To find out information on the worth of your water rights, you need to inquire with a licensed real estate broker or a water rights broker in that area for the current market price.


17) Q: How could I find out if there are water right appropriations available in a particular area?


A: From our "WATER RIGHTS LOOKUP" button on the home page, select the first item titled New Mexico Water Rights Reporting System. This will take you into our online query system where you can look up specific water rights information.