By Jerry Pacheco
In the southwestern part of the U.S. and northern Mexico, water is our lifeblood and without sufficient supplies development is impossible. Throughout history, water has been a central issue in everything from wealth development to brutal range wars. This region has been dominated by farming and ranching interests, with new industry creeping in. At present, Texas and New Mexico are locked in a lawsuit over water that promises to have major ramifications for the border.
There has been no doubt that during the past few years, we have been in a severe drought that could have long-term consequences in the region’s ability to develop. As value-added production grows in the border region, the need for water becomes even more important. Many plants use water as a major component of their production. They also need workers, who buy houses to live near their jobs. A continuing drought can pit farmers and ranchers against developers who are building plants and residential developments.
With water on my mind, I recently drove from Santa Teresa to visit my father in Española, just north of Santa Fe. The farther north I drove, the greener the scenery became. Approaching Albuquerque and driving up to Santa Fe, the scrub grass on the side of the road was positively radiant and provided groups of wild horses a hearty meal. The Galisteo River, south of Santa Fe, was always an empty wash as I remember growing up. However, that day it was a surging creek full of muddy water that it had gathered from around the Ortiz Mountains. Other long- dry arroyos also were flowing.
The greenery in northern New Mexico bodes well for the water situation in the southern New Mexico-El Paso-Juarez region on the Mexican border. Increased precipitation in the north helps to ease our water issues in the south via larger flow volume on the Rio Grande. Returning to Santa Teresa, from the highway I consciously examined Elephant Butte and Caballo Lakes. Compared to past years, they definitely appeared to be more full. This made me feel good as I passed. As I arrived home, the clouds were again forming and later on that night we had a healthy drizzle.
The increased rainfall also makes me realize that we don’t seem to build with rain in mind at the border, especially due to the fact that in our region, during the monsoon season, we tend to get all of our rain in a short period of time. Driving recently in southern New Mexico and El Paso, I saw many roads washed out or damaged by the recent deluges. When I visited Juarez for a trade show, parts of major city streets were lakes that showed no evidence of draining any time soon. In this city, many underpasses were built without sufficient drainage and only pumps and warm weather will dissipate the water. This affects the ability of people and commerce to travel to their destinations.
Despite the recent healthy precipitation, experts tell us that we are still in a long-term drought. Last year was one of the driest years in recent memory, and the first six months of this year were no better. The rains that we have welcomed this summer are only helping to a small extent to bring us to normal levels.
It is apparent that the future of our region is going to depend on conservation and increased water efficiencies – these have to be part of our plan for border development going forward. Every facet of society must be involved. Residential developers can incorporate more xeriscaping into their housing developments. Commercial and industrial developers can implement ways to reduce water use in their operations.
Albuquerque has been very successful in responding to the drought by decreasing its water usage. According to reports, the city used 32 billion gallons of water in 2013, a seven percent drop compared to 2012. The Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Authority reports that was the lowest consumption since 1983, despite the fact that the population served by this authority has grown by 70 percent during this time period.
The border region is a dynamic region and has become a magnet for new industries, particularly those tied to Mexico. Approaches used by Albuquerque could be incorporated by the border region as it continues to grow. And at a more personal level, each one of us can do our part to reduce our water usage by being conscious of our dry status and thinking towards the future.
We are by no means out of the current drought, and the Southwest and northern Mexico will remain an arid region with a growing population base. However, the recent wonderful reprieve from bone-dry days does a lot to lift the spirits and to have hope for the future.