Water Resources Professional Project Reports

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2022


New Mexico (NM) passed a land use law in 1967 that offers tax subsidies to agricultural landowners and is implemented at the county level. This law illustrates a stark disconnect between land and water policy: there are water policy implications because of it, but it has never been discussed accordingly. With a focus on New Mexico’s primary urban county, this study estimates that in 2020, Rio Grande surface flows were used to irrigate 4,388 acres of Bernalillo County land that received the special tax valuation offered through the law. This represents a potential use of nearly 11,000 acre-feet of water, on many properties that are not utilizing the program as it was originally intended, and in a region where agriculture is largely non-commercial. This consumptive use is equivalent to nearly a quarter of Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s (ABCWUA) entire 2020 surface and groundwater usage, and is enough to support approximately 40,000 homes in the region for a year. This program, which mainly involves county assessor’s offices and irrigation districts, lacks cooperative oversight and no system exists in Bernalillo County to track its consumptive water use. Legislative attempts to update and clarify NM Stat § 7-36-20 have been unsuccessful. The law is not accomplishing what it was meant to accomplish when enacted more than 50 years ago – at that time, the intended audience was subsistence farmers. By and large, that is not the same audience currently utilizing the program. The absence of action and public discourse constrains future planning and resiliency efforts as central New Mexico continues into an era of aridification and unreliable water supplies.


water policy, Rio Grande, groundwater, abcwua