Title: Economic Factors in The Study of Water Use by Nathaniel Wollman, University of New Mexico - Introduction
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Title: Economic Factors in The Study of Water Use by Nathaniel Wollman, University of New Mexico - Introduction
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Language: English
Publisher: The Conservation Foundation
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Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
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Abstract: Richard Hamann's Collection - Economic Factors in The Study of Water Use by Nathaniel Wollman, University of New Mexico - Introduction
General Note: Box 12, Folder 11 ( Conservation Foundation - Symposium Papers on Water Allocation in Eastern U. S. - 1956 ), Item 50
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
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ECONOMIC FACTORS IN THE STUDY OF WATER USE

Nathaniel Wollman
. University of New Mexico

I. Introduction


The Southwest's aridity has provided the nation with a delightful scenic

and climatic interlude between Dallas and Los Angeles but, in the minds of many

inhabitants, has thwarted the region's aspirations to bigger and better things.

It now appears that the shortage of water which has dominated life in the region

for some time is a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the country. The

growth of population and changing technology in agriculture and industry has

suddenly awakened the nation to the fact that water is a scarce and valuable

resource. But what is the basis of a mildly unsettling revelation in the more

humid parts of the country is a matter of life or death in the Southwest.

As realization of the water scarcity's seriousness has grown, private and

public interests have stimulated a variety of inquiries covering cloud-seeding,

desalting of sea water, anti-pollution, increased use of desert plants, anti-

evaporants, large-scale public works, and a reexamination of the legal founda-

tions of property rights in water. Very little has been done, except in con-

nection with securing Congressional approval of public works (where efforts

have been extensive), in the economics of water use: examination of the uses

to which water is put, construction of a yardstick whereby it is possible to

decide whether or not the prevailing pattern of uses maximizes social welfare,

and adoption of units of measurement whereby the deviation of prevailing from

optimum usage can be quantitatively expressed.

The present pattern of water use in New Mexico can be said to depart from

aboriginal usage by no more than ten percent. No other resource of the state

shows the same steadfast allegiance to the ways of antiquity. Early Indian

settlers used the available water supply exclusively for domestic use and







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irrigation; today q of the water beneficially consumed in the state is used

in the same way. But within the last two decades the state's economy has turned

sharply away from the past. Little country towns are now the centers of uranium

processing, oil and gas explorations, and rocket shoots. The mountains no longer

shelter bears and wildcats; they are filled, instead, with Los Alamos scientists

and their families. Albuquerque's airport ranks among the busiest ten in the

country. The Laguna tribal council not long ago turned down a proposal made by

an enterprising white that he build a private airport on the reservation and

teach all the men to fly. Since the Laguna Indians had several million dollars

in cash and negotiable securities, the financial aspects of this transaction

were perfectly sound.

The growth and changing character of the state's economy have created a host

of problems -- large migrant populations, rapid city growth and lagging facili-

ties, urban and military encroachment on farming and ranching lands -- but none

seems so intractable as the ever-narrowing gap between the water supply and the

inexorable growth in demand. Competition for the limited waters of the state has

invested each user with the desperation of a fight for survival. The enemy is

not always the same, however; opposing forces and -ppg up n c n to the

nature of the challenge.

oorgrowers Elephant Butte Dam oppose the introduction of sedimenta-

tion controls on the Rio Puerco, a tributary upstream, even though Rio Puerco

water is now mostly mud, because of a fear that such controls will reduce the

inflow into Elephant Butte reservoir. When Rio Puerco water reaches the aggraded

bed of the Rio Grande the mud is dropped. The swamps formed below the confluence

of the two streams have inundated several villages and, ly spreading the water

thinly over an extensive area, have been the cause of excessivewastage trough
^ ^ -- ""- "" ''" ^""
evaporation and transpiration. At the demand of the cotton grower- the6 swamps
were drained a couple of years ago, only to raise a cry from hunters and nature
were drained a couple of years ago, only to raise a cry from hunters and nature










lovers at the destruction of wild-life habitat.

At present the water supply of Albuquerque and other municipalities along

the Rio Grande comes from wells driven into the valley alluvial beds. The in-

crease in pumping has resulted in a diminished surface flow of the river and a

reduction in the supply of water available to those in possession of surface

water rights. Those who pump the ground water suffer no limitation on with-

drawals. The conflict between the two groups of users is slowly mounting to a

showdown and may be affected by the outcome of a suit of New Mexico by Texas now

before the courts regarding water deliveries under the Rio Grande compact.

Proposal t jicreaa tjhe induiial use of water are fought by farmers,

hunters, and fishermen, who fear not only depletion of supplies but the hazards

to vegetable and animal life created by po.ution. Albuquerque and other muni-

cipalities are in danger every spring of floods, yet downstream uers oppose

any structures on the main stem of the river- that-mavdetain the flow of water,

increase losses of evaporation, and possibly resultlin-.a-erm nt retndutiolof

stream flow.

The suspicion with which any change in the use of water is viewed in the

Southwest is illustrated by the opposition of Texas to a plan whereby water would

be diverted from the San Juan basin into the Rio Grande basin. Although San Juan

water drains into the Gulf of Lower California and nowhere touches Texas terri-

tory, and although the added supply in the Rio Grande would make it possible for

more water to flow downstream to Texas, the Lone Star State's congressional

delegation voiced intransigent opposition to the plan until assurance was given

that no structure would be built on the Rio Grande itself. As a result of this

concession to Texas, a sizable loss of hydroelectric power potential will be

suffered by New Mexico.

The northwest corner of the state -- characterized by its Navaho population

and the frenetic geological antics of oil, gas, and uranium prospectors -- has









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been engaged in a prolonged feud with the Rio Grande portion of the state over

the amount of water to be brought across the Continental Divide. The northwest

corner claims that a potentially bright future will be cut short b~y y undue

demand upon its water supply, even though most of it is presently unused. The
. ..-. .
Rio Grande people point out that the major urban area of the region and the

source of much of the state's present prosperity hinges on the continued ability

of the valley to meet the demands for water imposed by LosAg e, Sandia Base,

White Sands, Hollanan Air Force Base, and related adjacent concunities. Since

the arguments of both sides have merit, it is easy to see why .-a-sOi 4n that is

more ta etr t l. serious students of the problem.

When water rights of the Navaho and the Pueblo Indians are incorporated as an

additional variable, the proper allocation of water becomes not only an exercise

in mathematics but a sociological problem that has frustrated the Indians, the

Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a host of self-appointed protectors of Indian rights.

New Mexico is faced with a probable growth of total population at a rate in

excess of the national average and with a growth of its city population that is

likely to be even more rapid. Much of this growth has been stimulated by the

expansion of military and AEC installations. At the same time, with the exception

of the San Juan basin, all surface water in the state is fully appropriated;

over-appropriated, in fact, since run-o s has been far below the

level that prevailed when existing water rights were first established. The

key to the state's long run economic health is water. Of labor there is no fore-

seeable shortage, New Mexico birth rates being what they are. It faces no short-

age of space, fuel, and energy. It is only when the question of water is raised

that the outlook is pessimistic; and this perspective i ico

shares with her neighbors.











In the spring of 1955 the first international conference on arid lands

took place. It was begun on the campus of the University of New Mexico, under

sponsorship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and then

moved 65 miles to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Dr. Edward

Ackerman, of Resources for the Future, attended the conference and had the op-

portunity of meeting a number of people in New Mexico who were interested in

pursuing the questions: (1) what is the "value" of water in various uses?

(2) how should water be used if it is to make its maximum contribution to the

region's economy? With the encouragement of Dr. Ackerman, who was soon joined

by Irving K. Fox, formerly of the Program Staff of the Department of the Interior

and now also of Resources for the Future, a research project directed toward

these questions has been formulated. The study as contemplated could take

place with equal justification in Arizona or Utah. Selection of New Mexico was

partly accidental, partly a reflection of the interest generated both inside

and outside the state in the multifarious forms of competition for water.




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