New Mexicans received a timely reminder of the importance of water, thanks to a new report from the World Resources Institute claiming the state faces severe strains on its water supply — a challenge that only will increase as global temperatures rise.
The World Resources Institute ranked New Mexico as first in the United States in its water challenges, facing “extremely high” pressures on water availability. New Mexico was the only state so ranked, and the measure puts the state on par with United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. The UAE is the 10th most water-stressed nation on the planet; Qatar is first.
New Mexico is not alone among states, however. Other states facing water challenges include California, Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska. More broadly, extreme water stress is affecting a quarter of the world’s population. A global water crisis is in our future, and that will include problems here at home.
For New Mexico, this report is another wake-up call that water is a finite resource and must be used wisely. We received our high rank in the report because the state is using 80 percent of its available water supply every year. That leaves little stored for those years when precipitation is in short supply.
Just last year, remember, much of New Mexico was in severe drought. These wonderful wet days of summer and the explosion of snow from last winter helped us renew the land and water, but the long-term forecast is that the state will become drier and hotter.
Local water experts, while not downplaying the report, believe it fails to take into account the pressures in different regions of the state. The water situation in Santa Fe — with its meticulous conservation efforts — does not resemble what is happening in Farmington or Clovis, for example.
What’s more, to figure out water demand and water availability accurately, the state would need to account for its water supplies and usage in a more quantifiable fashion.
That’s why the Water Data Act, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April, is essential. State agencies now are making standard data on water quality, water use and water levels across the state. Agencies have to submit water management plans each year. At some point — soon, we trust — the state will understand demands and supply in a fashion that is easy to understand.
Eventually, harder decisions will have to be made. Water for cattle or farming, or water for cities? Water for golf courses, or water to run factories? Throughout those conversations, the state must work with cities and counties to improve conservation with water-wise gardening and farming, reuse of household water, installation of water-frugal appliances and other sensible water-management techniques.
Because, as this report warns, New Mexico is water-stressed. And the situation is not improving any time soon.