A wide river flowing between a canyon and trees.
San Juan River The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

Newsroom

Water Agreement Reached Between the Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and The Nature Conservancy

Will help address water security in the face of climate change

  • Lindsay Schlageter
    The Nature Conservancy
    Phone: 612-968-3141

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced today a new agreement to lease water from the Nation to the NMISC.  As the western US is facing critical drought and water shortages are occurring throughout the Colorado River Basin, the Nation has worked with the NMISC and TNC to develop and implement this project.

This innovative agreement between a sovereign Tribal Nation, a Colorado River Basin state government, and a conservation organization will allow the NMISC to lease up to 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. This amount will benefit threatened, endangered, and sensitive fish and will increase water security for New Mexico.

“This first-of-its-kind project demonstrates how meaningful sovereign-to-sovereign cooperation, with support from environmental organizations, can lead to creative solutions,” said Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation. “This project should serve as a model for effective tribal collaboration and arms-length negotiations among sovereigns throughout the Colorado River Basin.”

 

The Jicarilla Apache Nation’s water rights provide access to water for the Nation to conduct cultural practices, provide drinking water to its community, and support economic development. The Nation subcontracts some of its water to users outside the Reservation. Subcontracts can be a source of income to help build the Nation’s economic self-sufficiency while providing water to others that need it.

For the last several decades, the Nation leased water to coal-fired power plants that are now facing closure. This transition presented a new opportunity for the Nation, the NMISC and TNC to work together.

“The Colorado River Basin’s tribal nations are among the most important leaders and partners in efforts to find lasting solutions to the pressing water scarcity and ecological challenges that face the millions of people who rely on this incredible river,” said Celene Hawkins, Colorado and Colorado River tribal engagement program director for The Nature Conservancy.

As many across the Colorado River Basin work to develop projects and solutions to address climate change and drought, the Nation, the NMISC, and TNC hope this innovative water sharing project can serve as a model for water sustainability within the basin. This project demonstrates that the Colorado River Basin’s tribal nations are important leaders and partners in crafting transformative water solutions across the West.

 “This agreement is unique for New Mexico as it creates a framework for sovereign-to-sovereign contractual agreements that support and benefit both sovereigns,” said Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “It may serve as an example for other Colorado River Basin states and tribal nations that have settled water rights to find collaborative solutions that benefit multiple interests and users of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers.”

A wide river flows between grass and trees.
The Animas River in Flora Vista, NM. The Animas River in Flora Vista, NM as seen from the New Mexico County Road 350 bridge. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.