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Maxwell’s fate tied to drought in the Canadian River watershed

The current drought has hit the New Mexican town of Maxwell pretty hard.  Advisories have been posted to remind residents to conserve water so some residents are forced to do laundry in neighboring towns because of the lack of water pressure throughout the town. Pictured is an intersection in Maxwell. Maxwell,  New Mexico/  (Roberto E. Rosales/ Albuquerque Journal.)update: Here’s our story on Maxwell from the Sunday paper

The Canadian River is small, even by New Mexico standards. But lately, it’s been smaller still. As it passes the village of Maxwell these days, it’s not so much “flowing” as “trickling”.

We know that New Mexico, as a whole, has been more dry than wet in the years since 2000. But on the Canadian, which flows out of the mountains of northeastern New Mexico across the eastern plains toward Texas, things have been far worse.

Data from the US Geological Survey’s gauge near Sanchez, graphed below, tells the story. The last unambiguously wet year on the Canadian was 1999. Depending on how you like to measure “normal” (the mathematical “mean” or “median”) 2005 is the only year since that has come close to normal.

For the village of Maxwell, those numbers translate to a grim outlook. Maxwell’s water supply depends on a shallow aquifer on the river’s east side. While many farms and cities in New Mexico can fall back on deep aquifers filled with ancient aquifers, Maxwell has no such luxury. When the tributary on which Maxwell depends goes dry, the shallow aquifer beneath it dries up as well. The result is a tiny New Mexico village where people have to think twice about flushing their toilets or taking a shower.

Here’s what the USGS Canadian River numbers look like:

Journal photographer Roberto Rosales and I will have more on Maxwell’s troubles in Sunday’s newspaper.


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