The Rio Grande, our vital water source, is only trickling through urban Albuquerque, barely continuous until it meets the third largest tributary to the entire Rio Grande upstream of Texas. That tributary is the Water Utility Authority treated wastewater outfall in the Albuquerque South Valley upstream of Isleta Pueblo.
The Rio Grande in Albuquerque was dry in 2022 for the first time in forty years. It’s imperative the people demand our elected officials and policymakers understand and swiftly address the causes behind this dire situation.
Historical Background: Impact of Historical Activities
Early in the 1900s, Governor Pablo Abeita of Isleta Pueblo* linked the waterlogged valley floor to the arrival of settlers, declaring, “It is because of you, who came.” The settlers had introduced a sheep economy, leading to widespread erosion and river sedimentation. This literally had reshaped the landscape, raising the bed of the Rio Grande, causing it to frequently leave its clogged channel to establish a lower channel, generating swamps and forcing communities, including Isleta Pueblo, to relocate their subsistence farming fields.*
Present Day Crisis: Overconsumption and Depletion
The situation we witness today in the Middle Rio Grande, and throughout New Mexico, is a direct result of unchecked relentless overconsumption of water resources by self-interested actors and neglect by the State as water sovereign, combined with escalating temperatures. Projections show a disturbing reduction in renewable water supplies by 2070, necessitating immediate and sustained intervention.
Solution Framework: The 2023 Water Security Planning Act
To tackle this crisis, the 2023 Legislature unanimously passed the Water Security Planning Act. Governor Lujan Grisham signed it. Article 72-14A NMSA 1978. The Act creates a structured approach for collective, scientifically backed problem definitions, solutions, and prioritized implementing actions. This Act empowers regions to collaboratively develop and prioritize scientifically informed solutions aimed at enhancing water resilience and sustainability. It outlines a clear collective impact framework for collaboration to address the alarming water scarcity issues.
Call to Action: Embrace Collective Responsibility
Achieving water sustainability requires a holistic approach involving every sector, including sovereign entities. It is crucial for diverse sectors to consolidate efforts and collaborate to preserving our irreplaceable water resources for future generations. Regions in New Mexico, particularly those relying solely on groundwater, must act promptly to reverse the effects of historical neglect and overconsumption. The 2023 Act includes the words collaboration and best available science and consideration of the needs of future generations.
Conclusion: United Efforts for a Sustainable Future
‘Water is Life!’ Our fight against escalating water consumption and the impending scarcity demands unified, concerted efforts from all sectors and communities. It is essential to align on the objective of water conservation and embark on sustainable practices immediately. The onus is not on the State alone; it’s a collective responsibility to ensure the preservation and sustainability of water resources for the generations to follow.
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*Source: A speech by John Fleck, addressed to Middle Rio Grande officials, water experts, and leaders on September 28, 2023, at the Hispanic Cultural Center, hosted by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, highlighted these points, narrating stories from his upcoming book.