Climate change and Albuquerque’s drinking water

By Mike Neas
From the Spring 2022 newsletter

By the 1990s, it was apparent that Albuquerque and Bernalillo County did not sit over a water supply the size of Lake Michigan as previously thought. The Albuquerque Basin Aquifer was being depleted faster than it was able to recharge. River diversions were necessary to protect and maintain the longevity of the aquifer.

Most of the tap water for roughly 600,000 Bernalillo County residents is supplied by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority via a combination of groundwater from the Albuquerque Basin Aquifer and surface water from the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project.

Groundwater wells combine with the San Juan-Chama project to produce about 32 billion gallons of drinking water for Water Authority consumers every year.

The Albuquerque Basin Aquifer is finite but can recharge if adequate surface water is available to offset its use. That’s why the current ratio of surface water to groundwater may be of concern (see chart). Diminishing water supplies (due to climate change) in the Upper San Juan River Basin forced the ABCWUA to shut off the use of surface water in early runoff season the last two years.

Last year, 25% surface water and 75% groundwater supplied Bernalillo County, which has consumed a fairly constant overall total since 2012. That ratio is reversed from surface water making up 70% of the demand in 2017 and 2019. The water authority’s 2022 annual operating plan, which will include a projection of diversions for 2022, may not be available until the end of May. It all depends on snowpack and runoff.

Constant vigilance is needed to protect our water supply, and we must question the push to continue unsustainable growth like the proposed Santolina development, which could further deplete our water resources.

For current U.S. Drought Monitor conditions for New Mexico, go to https://www.drought.gov/states/new-mexico

Climate change and Albuquerque’s drinking water