ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Rethinking water supply and demand along one of the West's most important river systems is among the recommendations being considered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other officials in a report released Wednesday on conservation efforts along the Middle Rio Grande.
Salazar stopped in Albuquerque to host a town-hall meeting with state, federal and community leaders to discuss the 180-mile stretch of the river that cuts through central New Mexico.
"The future of the state depends on its wise stewardship," the report states.
Salazar appointed an eight-member committee in January to work with the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a plan for the river that incorporates water management, endangered species concerns and educational and recreational opportunities.
The river supplies drinking water to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other cities, as well as thousands of farmers. Years of drought, dismal snowpack and growing demand has continued to put pressure on the river.
Officials have warned that the basin's water is fully appropriated and the region's long-term water crisis will only be exacerbated by climate change.
The committee contends that an "unprecedented effort" will be needed to ensure the river continues to sustain New Mexico residents and species in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.
In the report, the committee likened the effort to campaigns that have been aimed at preserving other iconic American landscapes, such as the Florida Everglades.
Some of the committee's recommendations call for more aggressive water conservation, a system for building a strategic water reserve and development of more upstream storage under the state's water delivery compact with Texas.
The committee also suggested developing the Rio Grande Trail, which would extend through as much of the wooded area along the river as possible. Granting access would require approval from various federal, regional and tribal officials.
Salazar also visited Taos Pueblo earlier Wednesday to execute three contracts related to the settlement of one of the longest-standing water rights cases in the state.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.