New Mexico suffers from water shortages due to the limitation of its reservoirs

New Mexico Suffers From Water Shortages Due To The Limitation Of Its Reservoirs

New Mexico- Tributaries of the Colorado River in New Mexico irrigate alfalfa fields in the Four Corners region and the forested foothills of the Gila in the southwestern part of the state.

Water management, however, was thought of in another era, when this resource was more abundant, before global warming changed everything and generated droughts. Now the authorities are trying to see how they can cope with less water.

Chief State Engineer Mike Hamman, in charge of water, says “the scarcity is very much felt” because New Mexico doesn’t have the reservoirs that other Colorado Basin states have.

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“That’s the dilemma: See how we can reduce demand without this having a huge impact,” Hamman said.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton this year tasked Colorado Basin states with developing an ambitious water conservation plan. But in mid-August she passed the deadline she had set without offering joint solutions.

Nevada, Arizona and Mexico, where the river ends, will have less water next year as their reservoir levels drop rapidly, the Interior Department announced Aug. 16. That agency did not mandate a reduction in water use in New Mexico.

The state’s water conservation programs, however, may need to be overhauled.

The Upper Colorado Basin states (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) did submit a five-point conservation plan that highlights that that region has “limited” conservation options.

For two years, those states have called for additional allocations of water from at least three reservoirs to shore up Lake Powell’s.

They are likely to continue to do so this year, according to Interior Department officials.

A drier climate means water users have to struggle to “live within the available means,” said Estevan López, New Mexico’s representative to the Upper Colorado Commission.

“It seems that we need to recalibrate our expectations about what can be obtained from the river,” said López, who previously directed the Office of Water Management.

The Upper Basin plans rely on conservation programs already in place. And more efficient irrigation methods must be sought.

The entire region must work together, López said, to avoid mandatory reductions.

He added that agreements for places like the San Juan Basin to deal with water scarcity “would be a more acceptable solution.”

The tributaries of the Colorado cover relatively small portions of northwestern and southwestern New Mexico. But the basin’s water is vital to the state’s largest city: Albuquerque.

The flow of the Rio Grande (Large for Americans) in Albuquerque is closely tied to that of the Colorado through the San Juan-Chama Potable Water Project.

A system of tunnels and dams diverts the water into the Rio Grande basin.

David Morris, a spokesman for the Albuquerque water management agency, said water from the Colorado allows the region to avoid consuming groundwater, which is not sustainable.

Since 2008, the city’s groundwater levels have risen nearly 40 feet.

“That’s exactly what we wanted,” Morris said. “We are very lucky here in Albuquerque to be able to have two sources of water.”

Climate change, however, is producing less snow on mountain peaks, which in recent years has meant less melting and less water available.

“It’s important to invest in things like water conservation and recycling,” Morris said. “It is possible that in the future there will not be as much water available in San Juan-Chama due to droughts and climate change.”

New Mexico uses half the water allocated to it in a 1922 agreement (the Colorado River Compact). But that could change as more indigenous tribes gain water use rights and build the infrastructure that will allow them to use those rights.

Funding for drought response and infrastructure projects, on the other hand, could help New Mexico and other Colorado Basin states reduce their water use and prepare for a drier future.

“I am confident that we are going to solve the problems and find solutions on a collaborative basis,” Hamman said.

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