Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque’s effort to wean itself from unsustainable groundwater pumping took a major step forward in 2014, with Rio Grande water for the first time in history meeting more than half the needs of the metro area’s largest water utility.
In a year-end report to the state, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility reported that 60 percent of its water came from its diversion dam, which intercepts Rio Grande flows near Alameda at the north end of town. Groundwater, pumped from deep layers of sands and gravels beneath the city, made up the other 40 percent of supply. The water utility serves a population of more than 600,000 in Albuquerque and neighboring areas of Bernalillo County.
The shift from groundwater to river water is critical to maintaining the long-term viability of Albuquerque’s water supply, said University of New Mexico water expert Bruce Thomson. “The groundwater is our drought reserve, so we need to preserve that,” Thomson said in an interview Monday.
The shift to river water, bolstered by water imported from the Colorado River Basin via the San Juan-Chama Project, began in 2008. At the time, excess groundwater pumping over more than a century had dropped the water table beneath Albuquerque by as much as 120 feet in some places. The use of river water has shifted that balance, with the water table rising 4 to 8 feet in the years since across Albuquerque, more in some places, said John Stomp, chief operations officer for the water utility. “The groundwater levels are continuing to rise in Albuquerque,” Stomp said.
“The fact that we’ve reduced the stress on our groundwater reserves has allowed them to recover fairly substantially,” Thomson said.
The results suggest the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project, a $500 million effort that included a new dam, water treatment plant and distribution pipes throughout Bernalillo County, is achieving its primary goal, Thomson said.
Stomp praised workers at the water treatment plant, which at times has been a bottleneck because of technical difficulties in getting its new systems running at full capacity. “Our guys at the plant did an amazing job keeping it running,” he said.