Document Type


Publication Date

March 2003


New Mexico and other arid western states face the following dilemma: Rapid urban growth and the increasing demand for the dedication of water to aquatic ecosystem services are placing new stresses on the ability of available water supplies to support these new demands at a time when a coherent federal supply and water policy no longer exists and states have been slow to fill the vacuum. The answer to the increasing demand for water is no longer simply to augment supply through new diversions, high-capacity wells, or the construction of large storage reservoirs. Instead, in today's increasingly unmediated, competitive water allocation environment, states and local governments are being forced to reexamine the traditional relationship between water policy and urban growth: If they come, we will supply them, and, more generally, water should never limit growth. Thus, urban areas are being forced to use alternative strategies such as demand management (conservation) and controversial rural-urban transfers to accommodate continuing urban growth and the state is aggressively limiting new groundwater access. New Mexico is an important case study of the stresses of reallocating water to meet continuing urban growth. The state has mined its ground water both for urban growth and irrigation, and it does not have a large, under-allocated federal project to support future growth or a major new source of water that can be tapped. The highly stressed Rio Grande, a major interstate and international river, must be shared with other states and Mexico. Furthermore, New Mexico has a unique rural landscape with strong Native American and Hispanic communities fighting to maintain a non-urban way of life. The article argues that water policies and urban growth policies must be better coordinated to promote more sustainable water use and "smarter" urban growth. Planning is the link. As the margin of error for unsustainable resource use decreases, integrated land and water use planning takes on a more critical role in connecting policies with decision making. Water and urban growth policies must support each other rather than continue to separate enterprises that are often at cross purposes with each other.

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