This means taking care of our water resources and preserving our culture, economy and traditions as best we can. In the Mesilla Valley, we should work toward a future in which we have adequate water supplies to honor the legacy of agriculture we communally share while planning for the future water needs of the generations to come.
We rely on the Mesilla and Jornada bolsons for our drinking water and on the Rio Bravo to irrigate the crops that power our agriculture economy. But in other places in southern New Mexico, precious water resources are being irresponsibly used for the short-term gain of corporations — prioritizing profits over our communities. We can’t afford to let that happen if we want to see a future where our children and grandchildren can thrive.
Oil and gas exploration and production continues to grow at unprecedented rates across the West, with a key profit area being in the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico. The oil and gas industry requires millions of gallons of water to produce and drill one single well, producing a short-term profit for company executives and shareholders while robbing New Mexicans of precious water resources needed to sustain future generations.
Oil and gas production can be part of our nation’s all-of-the-above energy transition plan, but at what cost? There are more appropriate places to drill than arid places like southeast New Mexico. A recent study by the Center for American Progress finds that in the last two years, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management has offered the oil and gas industry unprecedented opportunities to buy thousands of oil and gas leases in some of the most water-starved landscapes across the West, including New Mexico.
In fact, in New Mexico more than 95 percent of the oil and gas leases offered under the Trump administration are located in “extremely high” water-stressed areas, most of them in the Permian Basin. Leasing activity here is at an all-time high — trucks are moving, pump jacks are bobbing, and water is being sucked out of the ground at unprecedented rates. Up to 2.6 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well in this part of our state.
Part of the problem is that unlike other water users in the state, there are little to no reporting requirements for energy companies who use water. The BLM has not developed the appropriate criteria it needs to award a lease in a drought-stricken or water-starved area, it’s simply not part of the way they currently do business.
Without a shift in federal policy, the BLM will continue to permit companies to use the people’s water in highly stressed water basins in New Mexico, where the additional water demand will eventually impact farmers, ranchers, agricultural uses and our way of life. If we really care about the future of southern New Mexico, we have to care about our water resources, and that means we have to stand up to protect our water for the next generation.
Angel Peña is president of the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project.