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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Without imported water, the Rio Grande would be dry in Albuquerque

Albuquerque drinking water diversion dam
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The Rio Grande, now flowing at a paltry 600 cubic feet per second past Albuquerque’s Central Avenue bridge, would be completely dry if not for imported San Juan-Chama water now being released for various water users in the valley, river managers told me today.

Put more simply – all the water you see in the river right now flowing through town has been imported from the Colorado River Basin.

There is just 210 cfs of native Rio Grande water at Embudo, in the Rio Grande Gorge between Española and Taos, and that water would essentially be used up by native vegetation and upstream water users long before it ever reached Albuquerque, were it not for imports that flow through tunnels beneath the continental divide and into the Chama. “If that water was not present, the river would essentially be dry by Alameda,” said Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Rio Grande bureau chief for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

Right now, we’ve got San Juan-Chama releases from the various Chama reservoirs for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the US Bureau of Reclamation, which is running water down the river to meet flow targets in Albuquerque for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. Without that water? Nada. It’d be a sand bed.

With no natural flow to accompany the San Juan-Chama water, this has caused all manner of water accounting chaos, as water agencies try to sort out who’s entitled to what. (I’m working on a story on the accounting issues for later in the week.)

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