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Your faculty and staff news since 1965
May 9, 2005
Volume 40, Number 10

Utton Center develops model river compacts

By Laurie Mellas Ramirez

Interstate river disputes have increased significantly during the past two decades, but the constitutional means to resolve them remain the same: enter into agreements/compacts or launch litigation or new legislation.

UNM’s Utton Transboundary Resources Center at the School of Law hosted a workshop recently to evaluate existing approaches to embattled water resources. This summer, the center will unveil two new model compacts for use in the U.S. and perhaps internationally.

The Utton Center specializes in using preventive diplomacy and multidisciplinary research to resolve natural resource conflicts.
The two-day workshop was held in March at the Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe where the Colorado River Compact of 1922 was drafted. The celebrated agreement was later signed at Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors.

“We hoped this would be a momentous meeting,” said Utton Center Director Marilyn O’Leary.

Scientists and lawyers serving as a 24-member advisory committee to the Model Compacts Project attended. Notables include Tom Donnelly, vice president of the National Water Resources Association, Jeff Featherstone, director for the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University, and Salman Salman, lead counsel for the World Bank.

At the meeting, small groups dissected current approaches to water management and allocation, decision-making processes, coordination of staffing and funding and compact agency powers.

“Rarely does such a group of national organizations and experts gather in one place,” O’Leary said. “People were so excited and they worked like crazy.”

Entering into a compact is the quickest, most cost-effective approach for states divvying up resources. The Missouri River, never compacted, has nine states sipping from its stream. Five lawsuits are ongoing to resolve a number of conflicts. If a compact does exist, it can be faulty and suits are often filed between states, O’Leary said. Texas-New Mexico litigation regarding Pecos River is an example close to home.

“We wanted new ideas and input and we wanted to learn about obstacles related to existing agreements – what are the problems that keep parties from entering into a compact?” O’Leary said.

Suggestions ranged from a call for flexible compacts that could be updated with current scientific information – for instance, a need to factor in a prolonged drought – to ensuring that parties agree to basic information regarding a contested body of water.
Recommendations gleaned from the workshop will assist project managers Jerome C. Muys and George W. Sherk in developing an interstate water compact specifically for state parties as well as a federal-interstate compact.

Compacts with model provisions and commentary will be published on the center’s Web site this summer, http://uttoncenter.unm.edu.