Powerful Thirst - Future of Water in the Southwest

Rio Grande near Albuquerque, NM at Sunrise

The local newspaper recently ran an article headlined 'Water experts: Southern N.M. has ample supply'. That headline is grossly misleading and is contradicted twice within the first 4 sentences of the article. The article begins, 'Southern New Mexico's water supply is ample for the next two to three decades, and could remain steady for 70 years or more if conservation continues and water recycling technology is implemented, experts say.' That expert is Ed Archuleta, the El Paso, Texas Water Utilities Public Service Board manager. I wonder how long Mr. Archuleta expects to live if he considers 20 to 30 years a long time.

Further into the article Mr. Archuleta says, 'I can't emphasize enough planning and collaborating between communities, counties, the states of Texas and New Mexico and the U.S. and Mexico. I don't see any problems in this region for a long time, 20 to 30 years at least.' He goes on to suggest drilling the brackish (salty) water aquifers under New Mexico and using desalination plants to make that water drinkable. Desalination is a power-hungry process and pumping the brackish waters would have unknown consequences to New Mexico's aquifers. I am not reassured despite Mr. Archuleta's apparent confidence in New Mexico's brackish water supply. His call for planning and collaboration in water use only faintly hints at the massive changes which are needed.

The American Southwest has a long history of drought reaching from the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) through the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Drought has again returned to the Southwest in recent years. The drought of the last decade led to bark beetle outbreaks which killed many Piñon and Ponderosa pine trees and fueled corresponding forest fires.

Attitudes towards water scarcity and use in the American Southwest commonly ignore our arid reality (e.g. golf courses, Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, AZ). Fortunately, we can change our own attitude and take action today to conserve water. Two upcoming events in New Mexico focus on Rainwater Harvesting and Xeriscaping which are effective ways to use water more wisely. Water is a valuable resource and is becoming more precious by the day. By learning to be frugal with water now we can prevent a day when the taps run dry.


What: Turning Scarcity into Abundance: The Integrated Harvest of Rain, Sun and Community by Brad Lancaster
When: Tuesday, Feb 24 2009, 7 to 9 PM
Where: James A. Little Theater, 1060 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM

What: 2009 International Water Conservation & Xeriscape Expo
When: Saturday 2/28 – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, Sunday 3/1 – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Where: Expo New Mexico ~ State Fairgrounds, Albuquerque, NM

More Info:

S.Fe New Mexican - Water experts: Southern N.M. has ample supply (20 - 30 years!)

S.Fe New Mexican - Council approves water rate hike

Wikipedia - Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi)

Wikipedia - Dust Bowl

US Forest Service - Forest Health: Bark Beetle Outbreak

U.S. Drought Monitor

BBC News - Mapping future water stress

IDSWater.com - Assessment of the Global Transboundary Water Situation

University of Kassel - Center for Environmental Systems Research

NRDC.org - Hotter and Drier, The West's Changed Climate

NRDC.org - Hotter and Drier: Fact Sheet

The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry?