ALBUQUERQUE Rethinking water supply and demand along one of the Wests most important river systems is among the recommendations being considered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other officials in a report released Wednesday on conservation efforts along the Middle Rio Grande.
Salazar stopped in Albuquerque to host a town-hall meeting with dozens of state, federal and community leaders to discuss the 180-mile stretch of the river that cuts through central New Mexico.
I cant imagine New Mexico being here in fact, it wouldnt be here and it wouldnt be the way it is if it hadnt been for the Rio Grande and all that it has given to people for centuries and for generations, Salazar told the crowd.
His words backed up the reports summation that the future of the state depends on wise stewardship of the river. The report, six months in the making, was the culmination of dozens of meetings and hundreds of public comments.
Salazar appointed a committee in January to work with the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a blueprint for the river that incorporates water management, endangered-species concerns and educational and recreational opportunities.
The river supplies water to thousands of farmers and six American Indian pueblos. Years of drought, dismal snowpack and growing demand has continued to put pressure on the river. Officials have warned that the basins water is fully appropriated and the regions water crisis will only be exacerbated by climate change.
The committee contends that an unprecedented effort will be needed to ensure the river continues to sustain New Mexico residents and species in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.
In the report, the committee likened the effort to campaigns that have been aimed at preserving other iconic American landscapes, such as the Everglades.
Some of the committees recommendations call for more aggressive water conservation, a system for building a strategic water reserve and development of more upstream storage under the states water delivery compact with Texas.
The committee also suggested developing the Rio Grande Trail, which would extend through as much of the wooded area along the river as possible, and supporting the creation of the Southwests first urban national wildlife refuge.
Salazar said $1.7 million in federal funds will be going toward the purchase of the 570-acre Prices Dairy south of Albuquerque to establish the refuge.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said the report offers a framework for a new model of conservation and that the refuge could serve as an anchor for conservation work along the Middle Rio Grande.
Salazar vowed that officials will begin working on the recommendations.
They will become a reality, he said. They wont happen this year. They wont even happen next year. This is a long-term commitment.
Salazar also visited Taos Pueblo earlier Wednesday to execute three contracts related to the settlement of one of the longest-standing water-rights cases in the state.