Importing water to NM? Challenges are stunning - Albuquerque Journal

Importing water to NM? Challenges are stunning

Two recent op-ed pieces have proposed that the solution to future water challenges involve interbasin transfer of water from the Mississippi River basin (Sunday Journal, Sept. 18, 2022) to New Mexico or, far more ambitiously, pump water from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana across the continental divide to the Colorado River (Sunday Journal, Jan. 1, 2023).

The practical and political complexities of these concepts are stunning. Let’s consider them a bit more thoroughly.

Probably the most feasible option for bringing water from the Mississippi River basin would be to transfer water from Lake Sakakawea, a huge lake on the Missouri River in North Dakota, to the middle Rio Grande.

The distance from Lake Sakakawea to the middle Rio Grande is approximately 1,000 miles. More importantly, it’s located at an elevation of 1,800 feet above sea level which greatly reduces pumping requirements.

A recent study done by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources suggests that water supply in the middle Rio Grande will decrease by about 30% over the next 50 years. That deficiency is approximately 300,000 acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, enough to provide water to three households for one year).

Transferring 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Missouri River during six months of high flow each year, requires a flow of 830 cubic feet per second, similar to today’s flow in the Rio Grande at Albuquerque. This is far too much water for a pipe – it requires a canal 25 feet wide and eight feet deep. To pump this water, 650,000 horsepower or 500 megawatts of power will be needed. This is roughly half the power generated by a single unit at a nuclear power plant.

The proposal to pump 100,000 gal/sec (10 million acre-feet per year) from the Atchafalaya River is simply incredible. The canal would be 1,400 miles long, 200 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and would require roughly 11 megawatts of power.

These numbers help put the practical aspects of interbasin water projects in perspective. Moving huge volumes of water through pipelines as is done for oil and natural gas is simply not feasible. However, I submit the technical difficulties are trivial compared to the political challenges.

Transporting water from North Dakota to New Mexico would involve a canal that passes through or near seven states; North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Bringing water from Louisiana to the Colorado River will require passing through or near Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Each of these states face serious water shortages. It is inconceivable to imagine that each of them won’t demand a proportionate share of water passing over or near their lands.

We must recognize that multistate interbasin transfers quickly become impractical when factoring in the water demands for all participants.

The volumes of water in the Missouri River, Atchafalaya River and other North American rivers are large, but they are nowhere near sufficient to meet the demands of the arid West. We simply need to learn to live with what we’ve got, accept the fact that future shortages are inevitable, and then manage this most precious resource wisely and equitably.

Bruce Thomson, Ph.D., P.E., is a research professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and in the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » Importing water to NM? Challenges are stunning

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories




Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages

 

Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
1
Santa Fe student selected to magazine's Junior Council
Arts
Viviana Garcia-Vélez, 11, chosen out of ... Viviana Garcia-Vélez, 11, chosen out of hundreds of applicants by weekly youth news publication The Week Junior.
2
Xeric Garden Club to host lecture
Arts
The Xeric Garden Club of Albuquerque ... The Xeric Garden Club of Albuquerque will hosting Laurel Ladwig as she speaks on the topic 'Share Space with Wildlife with a Backyard Refuge.'
3
SITE Santa Fe awarded National Endowment for the Arts ...
Arts
The grant will support the upcoming ... The grant will support the upcoming exhibition, 'Going With the Flow: Art, Actions and Western Waters,' opening on April 14.
4
PBS KIDS series 'Work It Out Wombats!' encourages viewers ...
Arts
The animated series premieres at 9:30 ... The animated series premieres at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 6, on PBS KIDS, channel 5.2. It will then rebroadcast at 11:30 a.m. on New ...
5
Lobo basketball signee Toppin expected to make UNM fans ...
ABQnews Seeker
Jadyn 'J.T.' Toppin has enjoyed a ... Jadyn 'J.T.' Toppin has enjoyed a strong senior season in Texas and can't wait to get to UNM and join the Lobos.
6
'Blossoming' consists of work by artists enrolled in Albuquerque ...
Arts
Some artists chose self-portraits to express ... Some artists chose self-portraits to express their changes through time and the pandemic.
7
Founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, W. ...
Arts
The Harwood Museum of Art will ... The Harwood Museum of Art will host 'William Herbert 'Buck' Dunton: A Mainer Goes West' through May 21.
8
Answers from the Roundhouse: What's being done to lighten ...
Answers from the Roundhouse
One bill would more than double ... One bill would more than double the minimum annual salary for education assistants
9
Prep basketball: Albuquerque Academy boys throw 'first punch' in ...
Boys' Basketball
Albuquerque Academy used a big third ... Albuquerque Academy used a big third quarter to pull away for a 72-60 boys basketball victory over Valley on the Vikings' home court on ...