The Jicarilla Apache Nation will lease water from the state of New Mexico for endangered species and water deliveries, under an agreement announced Thursday with The Nature Conservancy.
The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission will pay the tribe up to 20,000 acre-feet of water per year, or about 6.5 billion gallons, for the next 10 years.
Jicarilla Apache water administrator Daryl Vigil said the deal will offset revenue losses that began when PNM no longer needed the tribe’s 8 billion gallons of water for operations. of the San Juan power plant, which will close soon.
“Jicarilla has unique challenges in terms of being able to develop its water rights,” Vigil said. “Our water rights are stored in two facilities off the reserve.”
The tribe’s 1992 water rights arbitration rules allow for leases or sales, a ‘valuable tool’ when Jicarilla Apache does not have access to or need water for its own use.
“(The government) tried to make us farmers and herders, but there is only one perennial river on the north side of the reserve,” Vigil said.
The money for the lease — the result of two years of negotiations — came from New Mexico’s strategic water reserve fund.
The first release of water from the Navajo Reservoir could be as early as 2023, ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen said.
“This will help endangered species and habitat along the San Juan River, primarily for razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow,” he said, adding that the water agreement between the state, a tribe and a non-governmental organization is a first for New Mexico. .
The water could also help New Mexico meet Colorado River Compact requirements.
New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming must supply some water to states in the lower Colorado River Basin or face cuts.
Such restrictions could reduce the San Juan-Chama Project allocations for the Rio Grande Basin.
“What we could do with this (Jicarilla) lease is deliver a lot of that water to Lake Powell,” Schmidt-Petersen said. “But we’re about five or six paces away from that.”
The Nature Conservancy assisted Jicarilla Apache with legal fees and expertise for the lease. The group can also help with future funding.
Celene Hawkins, manager of The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Tribal Water Project, said the region’s tribes are key to finding “sustainable solutions to the pressing water scarcity and ecological challenges facing millions of people.” of people who depend on this incredible river”.
The ISC is asking the state legislature for a total of $2.5 million over the next five years to fund the lease.
For Vigil, the deal was “built on the prospect of working as a tribal ruler for a state ruler”.
“It levels the playing field and is absolutely essential to building a water resilient future for this region,” he said.
Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America body that covers water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.