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Water expert: NM is draining water reserves

SANTA FE – If water were dollars and New Mexico a bank, our checking account would be busted and we’d be dipping dangerously into savings.

That’s how Sam Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, thinks about the state’s dire water conditions.

“We have a situation where we are dangerously out of balance,” Fernald said Thursday at the state Capitol. “We are starting to tap into our savings account. We have been using our groundwater as a checking account. But because of the drought and the lack of surface water, the groundwater has not been recharging. So now we are tapping into our reserves.”

Fernald made his comments following a Capitol rotunda news conference announcing New Mexico Water Awareness Week.

Surface water – in the form of streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands replenished by snow and rain – is like a direct deposit into the checking account of groundwater below the surface. But in a drought such as New Mexico has endured for the past several years, that direct deposit dwindles dramatically. It has happened before.

“This happened in the ’50s, and we got those wet years afterwards and the groundwater recharged,” he said. “But we can’t count on those wet years.”

Fernald’s institute funds research, by faculty and students at New Mexico universities, aimed at tackling water problems in New Mexico and the Southwest. He was among several speakers at Thursday’s news conference, convened by New Mexico First, a nonpartisan public policy organization.

In April, New Mexico First sponsored a town hall on water planning in Albuquerque. Attended by more than 300 people from 31 counties, representing rural, urban and tribal interests, the town hall developed recommendations concerning watersheds and ecosystems, conservation and water quality and new sources of water, among others.

Legislation related to some of these issues and endorsed by New Mexico First were noted at the news conference. These include Senate Bill 156, which would support research by Fernald’s institute, and House Joint Memorial 6, developed from the April town hall’s recommendations and sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, and co-signed by Sen. Gerald Ortiz Y Pino, D-Albuquerque. The memorial, which laid the foundation for New Mexico Water Awareness Week, passed the House last week and the Senate on Thursday.

“Water issues in New Mexico unite us. They shouldn’t divide us,” Sen. Ortiz Y Pino said during the news conference. “The town hall was an example of that. We could survive without oil. We would not have a big budget, but we would survive. Without water, we will not survive.”