Growth drain:
New developments, lack of planning could tax water supply

When you hear names like Rio West, SunCal, Rancho Cielo and Mesa del Sol, your first thought should be of the roaring sound of perhaps 300,000 new people on the outskirts of Albuquerque in the next 20 years.

It's the roar of angry traffic on gridlocked freeways and the roar of water disappearing into countless lawns and toilets.

Does such growth sound like madness in the face of severe water shortages? It sure does.

As water planners have pointed out, the Rio Grande is overappropriated by existing users, and we're pumping the aquifer faster than it can ever be recharged. We're just flat running out of water.

The San Juan-Chama drinking water project could endanger farm lands in the l7-mile stretch of the Rio Grande around Albuquerque by diverting huge amounts of water from the river, and will provide only a stop-gap to aquifer depletion, especially with massive new growth.

Something has to give somewhere, as the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources' new book, "Water Resources of the Middle Rio Grande," reveals.

Authored by two dozen top water experts, the report is a cautionary tale, couched in clear, rational language, of the complicated water realities and ferocious challenges we face, including the owners and designers of the gigantic planned communities that could clog us up and drain us dry.

All but Mesa Del Sol - a huge infill development near the airport, with a potential population of 100,000 - are perfect examples of runaway sprawl.

It doesn't matter the founder of New Urbanism, Stefanos Polyzoides, has been contracted by SunCal to do a sensitive urban enclave on the 55,000 West Mesa acres that used to belong to the Westland Development Co. The development will be far to the west of the city's core. It's another version of West Side sprawl.

Same with Rio West, in the Rio Puerco Valley, its 70,000 new people, turning I-40 into a rush-hour parking lot.

Rancho Cielo, near Los Lunas, promises to add more traffic congestion to the morning and evening bumper-to-bumper mayhem of I-25.

If something has to give, it will probably show up in extreme hikes of water rates and water-transfer prices and massive growth of greenhouse gases in a state devoted to lessening its load on global climate change.

Might we see water- and climate-related lawsuits brought by the state against cities and developers? California's attorney general has sued San Bernardino County for not planning to reduce carbon emissions while promoting growth.

If 300,000 new people move into our area, climate change and desperate water scarcity will turn Albuquerque into a legal snake pit.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
June 15, 2007