The Río Grande, like so many watersheds across the arid West, has been over-allocated for some time. Now the river faces even more serious danger, as communities along its length have announced or begun to implement plans to divert the river’s water for urban consumption. One of the most serious plans is Albuquerque’s diversion of San Juan-Chama river water.
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state and has never used river water before. In an effort to stop depletion of the aquifer underlying the city and still meet mandated downstream water needs, the current city administration announced that it would finally use water that had been set aside for its use.
However, this is a short-term and short-sighted solution to the city’s water problem. By its own models, use of diverted water will stop aquifer drawdown for only one generation; but dealing with the problem then will be complicated by the much larger size of the city’s population and water needs.
Meanwhile, at stake is the viability of 16 miles of the Río Grande that will be dewatered through the heart of the city, and the livelihood of farmers downstream who have depended on the availability of San Juan-Chama water.
In addition, the city plans on replacing up to 45,000 acre feet of river water diverted at the northern edge of the city with treated city wastewater discharged near the southern end of the city.
In early July 2005, Amigos Bravos suffered a set back in our case against the City of Albuquerque’s diversion when the Judge denied our motions for summary judgment. We will be focusing on creating a record for appeal in the friendlier Court of Appeals in 2006-7. The issue is a difficult one around which to mobilize the public, since the issues are complicated and there is near consensus that “Albuquerque needs water in order to secure its future”.