Climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to traditional forms of water governance in the American Southwest. This Article centers on one watershed struggling to meet these challenges — New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande (MRG). The MRG includes the urban environments of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, as well as surrounding small towns, and rural agricultural communities. This Article provides an overview of the MRG as a complex and dynamic social-ecological system and what challenges may arise under expected hydrologic changes. Employing concepts from resilience theory, it describes the challenges facing water governance in the MRG, placing particular emphasis on the current function and capacity of existing governance structures. After a basic overview of resilience as a paradigm for understanding the dynamics of an SES, it provides a brief overview of the current governance framework for the MRG. It then provides a description of the key social and ecological system elements and their associated interactions. Having identified the key social and ecological elements involved, we discuss possible key interactions among them, including “tipping points” — key thresholds that, if crossed, may threaten the long-term stability of the MRG. We then look at the implications of these interactions and tipping points for natural resource managers and discuss whether the current governance structures are equipped for the challenges ahead. This includes a discussion regarding the potential for and current investment in the use of adaptive management in the MRG.
Read the full article in the Idaho Law Review.