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Water and Natural Resource Policy


Natural resources – namely water and land – are perhaps no more fundamental to any particular sector of the economy than they are to farming and ranching.

In New Mexico, agricultural water users, along with acequias and Native American communities, are recognized by the Office of the State Engineer as senior water right holders. Per OSE, the more junior water right holders include the state’s municipalities, as well as industrial, residential, and recreational water users.  New Mexico’s water is further obligated under the Endangered Species Act, which demands a share of the resource in the name of protecting threatened and endangered species.

New Mexico is also obligated to deliver a share of its water resources across its boundaries per eight interstate compacts and two international treaties.

The patchwork of land ownership in New Mexico adds another layer of complexity to agriculture in the state.  More than 35 percent of the state’s 77.8 million acres is owned by the U.S. government. That includes the Department of Interior (the state’s largest federal landholder at 14.1 million acres) and the Forest Service (the second-largest at 9.3 million acres).  Fee-based grazing is one of the longest-standing uses for which these federal agencies are mandated to manage lands under their care.

Given the complexity of water, land, and other natural resources in New Mexico, NMDA’s participation in related conversations is critical to the viability of the state’s multibillion-dollar-a-year agricultural industry.  As such, NMDA serves on boards, commissions, and task forces to ensure that the interests of the farming and ranching community are considered in regulatory actions and programs affecting the state’s natural resources.