Texas-New Mexico Dispute Over Rio Grande Water Goes Before Supreme Court

Texas alleges that New Mexico is taking more Rio Grande river water than it’s allowed under an 80-year-old compact between the states. The federal government has weighed in on Texas’ side.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 8, 2018 1:25 pm,

The Rio Grande River plays a defining role in Texas. But as tied as the river is to the state’s identity, its waters don’t belong to us – not entirely, anyway. The Rio Grande actually starts as a mountain stream in Colorado and many miles of it run through New Mexico. Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case about the use of Rio Grande water. The dispute dates back to a compact made between the three states in 1938.

The dispute among the states began in 2014 when the Supreme Court appointed a special master to review a complaint from Texas that New Mexico was taking more than its fair share of water under the compact. Texas now wants the court to order New Mexico to deliver water to Texas under the terms of the compact.

In response to Texas’ complaint, New Mexico and Colorado asked the special master to dismiss the complaint, and the U.S. federal government sought permission to file its own complaint, siding with Texas.

Ryke Longest, director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University says that many of the issues in the complaint were resolved by the court in October, oral arguments on the federal government’s complaint are being heard today.

Longest points out that the original compact came about because of a long water dispute. “We will expect to see more of these original jurisdiction cases under the copacts, when one state sees water scarcity as a threat,” he says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.