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THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS AND
THE VALUE OF WATER

Dr. William M. Turner

The Second Law of Thermodynamics holds that the entropy of the universe increases in a spontaneous process and all systems tend to chaos.  Furtherthe disorder of a system, or its "entropy," increases perpetually. This is as applicable to political systems as it is to physical systems. It is certainly alive and well in the politics of water. 

Along with population growth in the greater Albuquerque area have come changes in demographics, socioeconomic characteristics, and, most importantly, land use. A shift from a dominantly rural to a dominantly urban population within the major cities of the Rio Grande corridor has resulted in increased ground-water withdrawal from our sole water source, the Santa Fe Group sedimentary aquifer of the Rio Grande Valley. The ground-water-levels throughout the Albuquerque Basin are dropping extensively and are already having a negative impact on Albuquerque and its neighbors in the Rio Grande Basin. Without vigorous intervention, it is immutable that there will be serious water shortage eventually and increasing legal and political conflict. 

This rising political conflict is nowhere more evident than in the adversarial relationship that exists between counties and their major cities in New Mexico. The New Mexico legislature passed legislation in 1996 that allows counties to enter the utility business. Consequently, Bernalillo County is entered the water utility business in competition with the City of Albuquerque. Bernalillo County seems to be the prime candidate to supply water to the growing west side of Albuquerque. Yet it is the City of Albuquerque that has the real technical understanding and control of water management and owns all of the water rights and the physical assets. The thought of multiple major political entities providing water each with their own agenda is a matter of concern. More worrisome is that Bernalillo County has no water rights to speak of and their initial philosophy seems to be that pumping ground water on Albuquerque's West Side will not impact the river for some considerable time. They reason, therefore, that they will have ample time to purchase the water rights they need to offset their diversion on the river. The plan of Bernalillo County to provide water to the west side of Albuquerque comes at a time when the City of Albuquerque is planning to divert surface water. 

Better cooperation is needed to develop holistic conjunctive use water management strategies and to develop comprehensive programs to protect the aquifer, enhance recharge, prevent over exploitation, and formulate sustainable water use policies. Development of this ability requires competent evaluation of the resources. Both the surface-water and ground-water-resources must be quantified. 

While the political water-pistol battle is being fought between cities and counties, valuable time will pass. Federal agencies with narrow and specific missions will meddle in this battle and further delay decisions that must be made today. Policies of the past will continue, greater shortages will develop, and water will increase in value in the face of this chaos. 

To visualize the magnitude of the problem, consider the tension between the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and then mix in the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, New Mexico State University, Water Resources Research Center, the State Engineer, Pueblos of Cochiti, Sandia, Santa Anna, Zia, Jemez, Isleta, the Cities of Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, Belen, Socorro, Truth or Consequences, the Town of Bernalillo, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the Counties of Sandoval, Valencia, Socorro, and Sierra and their own special agendas. 

Since this Newsletter was originally written in 2000, political campaign contributions to Governor Bill Richardson's, began the initial pay-to-play games.  Richardson introduced legislation to forcibly combine the Bernalillo County water system (non-existent) and the City of Albuquerque Water Department into the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority, primarily to bring Albuquerque water rights and infrastructure to 58,000 acres of private land on the Albuquerque West Side.  This new utility had the power of condemnation of water rights.  That power was severely limited last February with the passage of broadly supported legislation that curtails the power of condemnation of water rights beyond the political jurisdiction of the City of Albuquerque.  Only a temporary set-back no doubt.  Laws are meant to be changed.

The 2000 need for a benevolent dictator of water policy has not changed.  Among the best in the West are Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Ed Archuleta of the El Paso Water Authority.

Visitors since September 19, 2009.

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