SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on a legal battle over irrigation along the Rio Grande (all times local):
Federal officials say pressures are expected to mount in the Rio Grande Basin thanks to warmer weather and changes in precipitation and snowpack.
The U.S. Interior Department outlined the challenges in a report released Tuesday that covers the effects of a changing climate on basins across the West.
The Rio Grande stretches from southern Colorado through New Mexico and Texas to Mexico. More than 6 million people in several major cities depend on it and it irrigates irrigate more than 3,100 square miles of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.
According to the report, about three-quarters of the river are allocated for agriculture.
In a legal challenge filed this week, environmentalists in New Mexico are pushing for one of the major irrigation districts along the Rio Grande to prove that it’s putting the water to beneficial use.
Environmentalists want a judge to force New Mexico’s top water manager to show that water pulled from the Rio Grande for irrigation is being put to beneficial use.
WildEarth Guardians filed their legal challenge against State Engineer Tom Blaine on Monday.
Under the state Constitution, a user has to prove to the state engineer’s office that the water is being put to beneficial use in order to secure a water right.
The group claims the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District hasn’t done that. The group contends the state has given the irrigation district a blank water check for decades and that’s affecting the river’s health.
The irrigation district received its permits some 80 years ago, and officials say they have been working with regulators for years without any accounting issues.