Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of Cheryl Everett’s two-part column dealing with the City of Rio Rancho’s water supply. The second part will appear next week.
Any resident of the American Southwest who’s not wondering about the future water supply in the face of our worsening regional drought simply hasn’t been paying attention.
In Rio Rancho, where accelerating economic development is a linchpin of our city’s future, water supply is a critical factor in the equation.
Yes, the city has purchased enough future water rights to last roughly the next 50 years at current rates of growth. But what good are water rights when the water supply itself is dwindling?
That’s exactly the question I posed in a recent conversation with James Chiasson, director of utilities for the City of Rio Rancho. The answer is, of course: “It depends” — on weather patterns, population growth, new business development, water conservation strategies, capital improvements and many other factors.
But first, let’s consider what determines water access and allotment in the state of New Mexico.
To someone like me who hails from the Great Lakes, water is a “given” — generously endowed by Mother Nature and assumed to be in limitless supply. Not so here in the high desert.
The Albuquerque Metropolitan Area rests on an underground “ocean,” or aquifer, from which the City of Rio Rancho pumps its water.
In contrast, the City of Albuquerque draws its water from the Rio Grande. And now, as the river flow drops, Albuquerque is also drawing water from wells.
Permits from the Office of the State Engineer now require Rio Rancho to purchase 728 acre-feet of water rights every five years through 2062 to meet the city’s anticipated needs. An acre-foot of water equals almost 326,000 gallons and would weigh about 2.7 million pounds.
With roughly 36,000 household water accounts in use throughout the city, our community-wide usage averages 10 million gallons a day, and even higher — up to 18 million gallons per day — in the summer.
The top institutional users of Rio Rancho water include:
· The City of Rio Rancho itself (irrigation for parks and medians);
· Rio Rancho Public Schools (irrigation); and
· Northern Meadows Homeowners Association (irrigation).
Most of this water usage is from recycled effluent, not potable (drinking) water.
In 2017, the city introduced a water re-injection program which returns a portion of used water to the aquifer after extensive wastewater treatment. While not fully recharging the aquifer, city officials say re-injection is “doing well” to the tune of 300,000 to 600,000 gallons of water replenished per day.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)