US Army Corps of Engineers
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River compacts keep state waters flowing smoothly

Albuquerque District Public Affairs
Published March 15, 2011

In the Old Southwest, a dam across a creek shared with a neighbor might produce a response with guns and dynamite.

Today, a tight collaboration among several agencies, driven by formal interstate compacts, has eliminated water wars and protects a historic way of life for all along the major rivers in the  Albuquerque District.

The water compacts for the Rio Grande, Pecos, Canadian and Arkansas rivers were set up to “remove all causes of present and future controversy regarding the equitable distribution of waters” within those states.

Other benefits included encouraging interstate “pleasantry,” securing and protecting future development, facilitating waterrelated projects, ensuring the efficient use of water and
coordinated flood control.

The compacts ensure that each state gets its agreed upon share of the water and provides for mathematical reimbursements when a partner doesn’t.

For Dennis Garcia and his Reservoir Control Branch team, the compacts play out in real life as the states look to their technical advisors to help them manage the water compact year by year and month by month.

Each year, technical teams from various agencies meet to discuss snow pack and projected seasonal rains to determine the needs and wants throughout the watersheds, without conflict.

“At the end of the day, our success is based on close collaboration and the working relationships we have built with others over the years,” Garcia said. “Especially with our own project offices; we couldn’t do our job without the hardworking people in the field.”

The technical teams, which include the Interstate Stream Commission, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Bureau of Reclamation, Pueblo interests and others, prepare reports to be presented to appropriate Compact Commissioners in the spring.

The Corps’ report is developed in close coordination with District personnel, and includes water operations and civil works activities conducted in our basins during the year.

Deviations from authorized water control plans are sometimes warranted, but require intense coordination and Division approval.

A successful deviation from authorized operating plans on the Rio Grande last year, to benefit the silvery minnow and other downstream environmental resources, required months of planning. A change in release at Cochiti Dam was adjusted in a manner that helped the natural spring runoff provide ideal flows for the spawning and recruitment of the silvery minnow.

This deviation was particularly challenging because, although the Corps is a key player in the management of releases from our dams, the Corps does not own the water released and must operate in a manner that respects flood control and water compact obligations.

Another example of the collaboration process came during the recent winter cold spell, resulting in power shortages. Los Alamos County contacted the Corps to investigate generating hydropower from Abiquiu dam. Garcia’s team sorted out the water requirements, resolved the issues and was prepared to okay the water flow to generate power and help struggling residents.

Fortunately, the crisis passed, but “the team was ready to push the button” on short notice, Garcia said.