Federal Water Tap, June 24: Supreme Court Blocks State-Led Rio Grande Water Agreement

The Rundown

  • The high court sides with the federal government in rejecting Rio Grande water deal between New Mexico and Texas.
  • GAO audits an Interior program for economic development on former mining lands.
  • State and federal agencies will assess water use in the lower Snake River, to inform the potential breaching of four dams.
  • NOAA and partners publish a “roadmap” for understanding drought and public health.

And lastly, NOAA adds rapid-onset drought to its weather hazards forecast.

“Because the United States has valid Compact claims and has not agreed to the proposed consent decree, the only remaining question is whether the consent decree would dispose of those claims…We conclude it would.” – Ruling from the Supreme Court in Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, a case centered on the Rio Grande basin, where a federal compact governs water allocations. The court, in a 5-4 decision, rejected an agreement between New Mexico and Texas that devised a formula for allocating each state’s share.

By the Numbers

$43 Million: Additional funding announced by the Interior Department for six rural water projects in the Northern Plains and New Mexico.

News Briefs

Rio Grande Agreement Rejected
The Supreme Court intervened in a Rio Grande water dispute, rejecting a water-sharing deal between New Mexico and Texas because the federal government objected to the agreement.

The 5-4 decision leaned heavily on a 2018 ruling that the federal government should be involved because it operates an irrigation project in the basin.

“Having acknowledged those interests, and having allowed the United States to intervene to assert them, we cannot now allow Texas and New Mexico to leave the United States up the river without a paddle,” Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote for the majority opinion.

Neil Gorsuch, the only westerner on the bench, wrote the dissenting opinion.

Gorsuch argued that the decision “defies 100 years of this Court’s water law jurisprudence” while also representing “a serious assault on the power of States to govern, as they always have, the water rights of users in their jurisdictions.”

Studies and Reports

Rapid-Onset Drought
To its weather forecasts, NOAA has added rapid-onset drought.

True to the name, this is a drought that develops quickly, usually due to a combination of high heat and little rain. Dry soils are another factor.

The current forecast shows potential for such drought in the next two weeks in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio River Valley, and northern Oklahoma.

Abandoned Mine Lands
The Government Accountability Office reviewed a Department of Interior program to fund economic development projects on or near former mining lands.

The audit found ways to improve the program that received $1 billion in federal funding between 2016 and 2023. Six states and three tribes are eligible for funding.

Representatives from the Navajo, Hopi, and Crow tribes said that economic development opportunities for these lands were hamstrung by a lack of water and sewer infrastructure.

Drought and Public Health
Dust storms and wildfire smoke, mental stress, respiratory problems, water pollution, and emergent diseases like Valley Fever.

NOAA and its partners published a “roadmap” for understanding and responding to these and other health issues linked to drought.

The report is a product of workshops and interviews with health departments.

In context: Wildfire Rampage Injures Lungs in the Great Lakes

On the Radar

Lower Snake River Water Use
State and federal agencies will assess water supply and use in the lower Snake River basin, in Idaho and Washington.

The study, due by the end of the year, is in response to the potential breaching of four dams on the river. The dams block upstream fish habitat.

If the dams are breached, the study will highlight how water deliveries for irrigation, industry, and municipalities could be affected.

Public online meetings will be held on June 25 at 6:00 p.m. Pacific, and June 27 at 3:00 p.m. Pacific. Register for the first meeting here, and the second meeting here.

Great Lakes Advisory Board Nominations
The EPA is seeking new members for the panel that consults with the agency on water quality and restoration in the Great Lakes.

Send applications to davicino.alana@epa.gov with the subject line GLAB Nominations 2024. The above link shows the items to include in an application.

Submissions are due July 30.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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