Los Alamos Should Predict Growth Based Only On Proven Water Supplies

White Rock

A story broke on June 7tthat even deregulated Big 6 national media isn’t ignoring. They’ve mostly ignored the Southwest’s nearly 30-year drought, in a nation seemingly bent on continuing to explode its population, never mind resources limitations, especially in the Southwest, which many are calling “ground zero for climate change.”

Iconic, depression-era Lake Mead, the second largest reservoir in North America and key to water allocations from the Colorado River to over 50 million people, is 37 percent empty (Yes, empty! Most of the remaining water is too muddy to use.) with the water level hovering at a drop-dead point for the first-ever Federal water emergency.

So far, our leaders’ answer to drought on the Southwest’s major rivers—Colorado and Rio Grande—has been to keep exploding the U.S. population by 30 million people a decade, soon to be 40 million a decade, 92 percent immigration-driven; to—in Albuquerque—seek ever more massive enterprises like the new Amazon shipping center to attract growth, while promising “new water sources” that never turn up.

Nor will they acknowledge that we cannot possibly expect to grow our cities this century to scales like those last century.  We’ll be lucky to have enough water for people already here.

The first-ever water emergency will dry-up millions of acres of farmland in California and Arizona, farmland important to feeding the 333 million population in ours’ the world’s 3rd most populated nation behind only China and India.  If drought continues, cities dependent on the Colorado—Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Salt Lake, Tucson, Las Vegas, and through water diversions under the Continental Divide, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Albuquerque, Santa Fe—will face the stark reality that the Anasazi long ago faced, the American Southwest can be inhospitable, even deadly.

That Los Alamos will not be directly affected by the Lake Mead crisis is because we opted not to divert our share of water from New Mexico’s allocation of San Juan-Chama water, Colorado River water diverted under the San Juan Mountains near Chama. But are we being any more responsible than others who seem unable to grasp that the American Southwest will likely be “hit first, worst and hardest” by climate change?

Literally hundreds of new homes are being built in White Rock, but what do we know about the water source for them—our only water source—the aquifer beneath our feet?

In the mid-1990s, our aquifer was being drawn down or “mined” by a ghastly 3-feet a year, shocking considering the town’s low growth rate and that 1960 to 1995 was the wettest time in the Southwest, as determined by tree-ring analysis, since the time of Christ!   

But despite massive wildfires across vast areas of our watershed and despite prolonged drought that reduce recharge of the aquifer, no updated aquifer study has been done.  We’re growing our town—during a time of regional water crisis unparalleled in modern history—based on data from before the Dome and Cerro Grande fires, before the Los Conchas and Oso Complex fires, from before the Southwest returned to its old drought-parched, inhospitable norms.

Los Alamos National Laboratory should have its hydrologists do an exhaustive new study of our aquifer and release the results for full discussion.  Los Alamos should then predicate growth based only on proven water supplies. Water should be priced as the precious commodity that water is in a drought-stricken region, and we should better educate residents to understand where our water comes from and how valuable it is considering that the region’s lifeblood, the Colorado River, might run dry by mid-century.

Editor’s note: Kathleene Parker of White Rock is a fifth-generation resident of the region. She writes nationally on water, timber, wildfire and media issues. She earlier worked as a correspondent covering Los Alamos, the Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos National Laboratory for 13 years for the Santa Fe New Mexican.