Water Crisis:
How will Albuquerque satiate its continual thirst for growth?

There's been talk lately about the "greening of Albuquerque."

The mayor and city council have been rightly lauded for taking the energy crisis and global warming seriously by implementing aggressive mass transit efforts and a wide variety of conservation measures. That being said, the collective political leadership of the Albuquerque metropolitan area has left the most important environmental issues of our time and place largely ignored - water and growth.

Rio Rancho and Albuquerque are using so much water now - pumping the aquifer "faster than rain and runoff can replenish it," says one of the most respected water experts in our region, independent scholar Lisa Robert - that it's "a calamity in the making."

Not only are we mining fossil water in unsustainable ways, but if we keep on growing, even with new drinking water from the Colorado River via the San Juan/Chama Project, "the city will again exhaust the water rights it owns and resume full-time groundwater mining, perhaps in as little as two decades," Robert wrote in a 2004 article in Geotimes.

And, perversely, the city of Albuquerque has seemingly gone out of its way to offend the holders of senior water rights in our area - Sandia, Zia, Santa Ana and Isleta pueblos. From disrespecting their religious appeals against a road through the Petroglyph National Monument, to challenging Isleta Pueblo over its clean-water standards a decade ago, Albuquerque has made itself an adversary of the pueblos.

And Rio Rancho, its growth in jeopardy from lack of water, is looking to buy water rights from irrigators in the Rio Jemez Basin around San Ysidro. The major opposition to this move comes from the Pueblo of Zia, a highly conservative and conservation-minded community that would be drastically affected by a change of flow in the Rio Jemez, upon which it depends.

The collective leadership of the Middle Rio Grande Valley is anything but green. There's still no effort, beyond regional plans, to create an elected regional water authority. Every political entity in the valley, except the pueblos, is growing and guzzling water like there's no tomorrow.

And the more agricultural water rights that are retired to accommodate new growth, the less the vital aquifer is recharged from acequia seepage.

How can an area like ours be considered environmentally progressive, if it continues to welcome any and all development?

Where's the water coming from for: the continued expansion of Rio Rancho; a massive West Mesa development on the old Westland/Atrisco Land Grand property; a huge, 70,000-person development on I-40 west at the Rio Puerco; a proposed new development that prompted Belen to annex a good chunk of Los Lunas along I-25; and the huge, in-town, planned community of Mesa del Sol and the growth it will generate?

Does all this development meet a local need? Or are we still forcing growth for growth's sake?

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
January 6, 2007