One recent spring morning, I met a friend in the bosque. We’d been there a few weeks before, and noticed the difference that short time had made. The river had swallowed up our sandy beach, replacing it with an area of green growth.
We took off our shoes, dug our toes into the sand and chatted while watching the kids haul buckets of water to make sand castles. As the day began heating up, we all sought relief in the river, grateful for the cool, refreshing Rio Grande waters.
The Rio Grande is a major lifeline in the Southwest. The river provides water to farms, the bosque and communities for its entire length through New Mexico, then supplies the demands on both sides of the border from El Paso until it (used to) reach the sea. The river is part of the Colorado River Basin, which provides drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres.
This year, megadrought conditions are projected to be the worst in the southwest in the last 1,200 years. Temperatures are hotter; for the past two years, snow packs and monsoons have been less than normal. As of July 12, 2021, Elephant Butte was 7 percent full. Likewise, Colorado River flows are down by 20 percent and the nation’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — are projected to be only 29 percent full by 2023.
Locally, our water supply is dwindling. Farmers and ranchers were asked not to farm. Those who must farm are forced to pump more groundwater to irrigate. With these current dire conditions, we must see radical changes to water policy now, particularly in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, and a comprehensive effort toward sustainable water goals for everyone.
Instead, Valencia County is rife with decisions that are closed to the public and not in the best interest of all residents. The Los Lunas mayor and village council unanimously granted Facebook up to 446,000 gallons/day of our water. Niagara Water Bottling company continues to extract our precious aquifer water at 254,000 gallons/day. The combined allotment for Facebook and Niagara is more than 700,000 gallons/day of our water. Putting this water use into context, the Los Lunas 40-year plan calculates a typical household uses 193,596 gallons/year (average 530 gallons/day).
Mayor Griego and the council continue to promise away our dwindling water. Are they considering any of the megadrought effects on our aquifer? Although public comments are allowed at these meetings where momentous decisions are being made, our public concerns are never addressed. Are the mayor and council simply continuing to ignore the voices of county residents impacted by these decisions?
VWW was formed in January 2020 over concerns about how local governments were making decisions regarding our water. We successfully raised enough concern and resistance to Niagara’s request (to more than double their extraction of our water) that they withdrew the request.
This year, as our concerns and commitment to this issue continue growing, we’ve held rallies, meetings and a town hall event. We’re forming a coalition of local residents to advocate for three vital causes to protect our water: 1) transparency in local water policies/decision-making; 2) open, straightforward accounting of who brokers our water; and 3) enabling residents to participate in water-policy discussions before decisions are made.
Just as the waters of the Rio Grande have influenced the land, local policies will alter our life-sustaining water for generations to come. We want to ensure that these policies result in a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
We are stronger when we come together as a community. If you’ve been affected by a lack of water or are concerned about this issue, we invite you to join us.
Go to tinyurl.com/JoinVWWcoalition to join Valencia Water Watchers and we’ll send you information about our upcoming September town hall meeting.
(Amber Jeansonne is a founding member of Valencia Water Watchers, which is a grassroots coalition of concerned local residents advocating for water conservation to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.)