Special Master in Texas v. New Mexico Water Dispute Finds the States’ Settlement Is Fair, Reasonable, and Consistent with the Rio Grande Compact 

Albuquerque, NM – On Monday, July 3, 2023, a United States federal circuit court judge serving as Special Master in the Texas v. New Mexico water case issued an opinion recommending the United States Supreme Court approve the settlement reached between New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado in November over the division of Rio Grande water south of Elephant Butte dam.

The Special Master’s decision, if accepted, means that New Mexico farmers will receive roughly 57 percent of Rio Grande Project water from New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir, which could result in tens of thousands of additional acre-feet of Project deliveries staying in New Mexico each year. The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether to accept or reject the Special Master’s recommendation.

“This has been one of New Mexico’s most important water cases in recent history, and we are proud to have reached an agreement that equitably divides the water below Elephant Butte Reservoir to ensure that New Mexico farmers and municipalities receive their fair share of water for decades to come,” said AG Torrez. “The Special Master’s decision is one more step in the right direction for New Mexicans and other arid western states. We agree full heartedly with Monday’s decision and look forward to a full vindication of our rights as states, to decide our own futures in terms of water use.”

The Compacting States agreed to jointly file the Proposed Consent Decree after several months of trial and nearly a year of settlement negotiations involving engineers, lawyers and environmental experts. The Consent Decree was formally filed with the Special Master in November 2022.

On Monday, the Special Master agreed with the Compacting States and found the Proposed Consent Decree to be fair, reasonable, and consistent with the Compact. The Special Master also determined that the Consent Decree did not impair the federal government’s rights to water use in southern New Mexico but could protect those rights in other courts. The Special Master has recommended that the Court resolve the Compacting States’ claims by entering the Compacting States’ proposed Consent Decree and to dismiss the United States’ claims without prejudice. The next and potentially final step in this long running water dispute will be a decision from the United States Supreme Court to accept or reject the Special Master’s recommendation.

“We are pleased that the Special Master has recognized New Mexico’s authority to administer water within the lower Rio Grande, and my office is fully committed to ensuring compliance with the settlement and the Rio Grande Compact through water rights administration, depletion management, and supply augmentation strategies that will prevent the burden of compliance from falling on any single sector, particularly agriculture,” said State Engineer Hamman. “We look forward to the decision from the United States Supreme Court during their next term.”

The Rio Grande provides water to approximately six million people ranging from Colorado to Mexico. The dispute between Texas and New Mexico began in 2013 and has been in litigation since.