New Mexico (NM) passed a Greenbelt law (NM Stat § 7-36-20) in 1967 offering tax subsidies to agricultural landowners. The law represents a serious disconnect between land and water policy in that it has serious water policy implications but has never been discussed accordingly. We estimate that in 2020, Rio Grande surface flows were used to irrigate 4,388 acres of land in Bernalillo County, the state’s largest urban area, that received the agricultural valuation. This represents an estimated water use of nearly 11,000 acre-feet, on many properties not utilizing the program as originally intended, in a region where agriculture is largely non-commercial. This is equivalent to nearly a quarter of the county’s entire 2020 municipal water use, enough for approximately 40,000 homes. The Greenbelt law lacks cooperative oversight and no system exists to track its water usage. The law is not accomplishing what it was originally enacted to accomplish, and multiple attempts to update it have been unsuccessful. Re-thinking institutional arrangements is critical to improving water resilience in an era of increasing aridification and unreliable water supplies.

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