I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Uncertain future of water should push us toward sensible thinking
If Albuquerque’s government and its citizens are ever to start thinking seriously and sensibly as a community about the area’s water future in an age of rapid climate change, a fundamental baseline of information is needed — not status quo propaganda — from which to start.
Such a baseline — unique to my experience — has just been published by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech. It’s a richly informative and magnificently illustrated guidebook called “Water, Natural Resources, and the Urban Landscape: The Albuquerque Region.”
As State Geologist Peter A. Scholle writes in his introduction, a “doom and gloom” scenario for our area is not warranted, if we have the desire to make certain changes. Scholle acknowledges that “increasing population, increasing development, and climate change will all add to the stress on natural ecosystems” and increasing sources of pollution.
But Scholle argues “If we have the will to do what environmentalists have urged for decades — act locally but think globally — we can control the slide toward future crisis… we can set positive examples at the local level, in Albuquerque and other New Mexico communities. We can pioneer cities run predominantly off renewable or sustainable energy — solar, wind, geothermal, algal biomass, and nuclear….We can do far more to reduce consumptive use of water. We can put our heads together and come up with a thousand more things to do to affect the trajectory of future change, and then we can conjure up the will to do them.”
Produced for the sixth “Decision-Makers Field Conference” conducted by New Mexico Tech, the bureau’s compilation of 23 essays and innumerable maps, graphs, and photographs on the Albuquerque region is, hands down, the most useful public document of its kind I’ve seen since.
Its contents are neither pro growth nor anti-growth. The essayists look dispassionately at water and the natural resources and hazards of our area.
Essays range from covering “The Geology and Hydrology of the Albuquerque Area,” “Surface Water/Ground Water connections,” Water Resources Management in the Albuquerque Urban Watershed, and “Water Supply Limitations in the Albuquerque Area,” to “Water Quality in the Albuquerque Area,” “Oil and Natural Gas Potential of the Albuquerque Basin,” “Geologic Hazards in the Albuquerque Area,” “The Middle Rio Grande Water Rights Market,” “Saline Water — Considerations for Future Supply in New Mexico,” and “Urban Planning in an Era of Diminished Resources.”
If the metro area were to have a serious, well publicized, inclusive goals conference again on the region’s future, this is the document that should be used as the orienting text for discussions. Such a conference, of course, would have to have a buy in from neighborhood groups, NGO’s, Native American communities, political and business leaders, citizen activists and serious scholars. Who knows if that is possible in our balkanized region, but I suspect it is if, to quote State Geologist Peter Scholle, “we have the will to do so,” “the desire to do so,” and “the wisdom to do so.”
All the chapters are useful. And while the essayists work to remain positive and evenhanded, a rather dire situation presents itself as the cumulative impact of the book as a whole. When you add up all the information, it becomes clear that mature, restrained, and positive new thinking has to be done about how Albuquerque had sustain itself as an economically viable city in the harsh new world ahead.
The chapter on “Water Quality in the Albuquerque Area,” by Marcy Leavitt of the New Mexico Environment Department, covers the bases of official information with clarity and thoroughness. Leavitt gives good coverage of the Albuquerque area’s three superfund sites, two in the South Valley — near the General Electric Complex on Woodard and The AT&ST Railroad site near by — and one downtown, called the Fruit Avenue Plume. She presents an interesting discussion on brown field restoration.
As with the subjects of many of the other chapters in the guide book, water quality is a growing concern of many activist organization, health groups, and NGOs who contend that the official picture by federal and state government is often woefully incomplete. It’s my feeling that in the next year or two a more comprehensive view of water pollution in our area will be compiled by credible organizations, and will take into account the total picture, including a wide range of other contaminants — radioactive, biological, fuel based, and industrial — released into ground water by businesses, the national labs, and other defense related contractors.
Among the more alarming chapters in the Bureau’s book concerns the “Flood Control Challenges in Bernalillo County,” written by John P. Kelly of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority and Fritz Blake who is retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of their main conclusions is that the “levees along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque are in a state of continued deterioration, and have the potential to pose a significant risk to the more than $1.4 billion in property that the system was designed to protect.”
They add that the levees still protect the city, but that “it is unknown how long this will last, given their rate of decline.” Of the 37.6 miles of levee on both banks of the Rio Grande, a total of 5.1 miles is considered a high priority for replacement. The two worst areas of levee in the metro area are three miles north of the I-25 Bridge on the west side of the river in the South Valley, and five miles north of the bridge on the east side of the river, in the South Valley. In the North Valley, the Montano levee gap is “of particular concern,” because of recent development in the area.
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech has been conducting “field conferences” for decision makers since 2001. The one for the Albuquerque Region is the sixth such conference, and will be held May 19-22.
“Specifically intended for a mix of national, state, and local political leaders, agency heads, industry leaders, environmental leaders and other decision makers, the conferences provide an opportunity to learn first-hand about natural resource problems… and potential solutions from some of the top experts in the field,” a New Mexico Tech press release says.
While the field conference itself is by invitation only, the bureau’s guidebook developed to accompany the conference is available from New Mexico Tech in Socorro. Their number is 575-835-5490.