New Mexico is the fifth driest state in the country, with significant portions of the state receiving less than 10 inches of rainfall annually. Additionally, approximately 87% of the state relies on groundwater for public water supplies, like drinking water and irrigation. New Mexico’s Native Nations – tribes and pueblos – and traditional land grant and acequia communities depend to a large extent on access to adequate clean water. Much of this groundwater is generated each year through snowmelt and rainfall, which has become more unpredictable due to the changing climate.
At the same time, New Mexico’s natural beauty, cultural diversity, and vast public lands consistently draw new residents to the state each year, increasing demand for already scarce water resources through increased development. These challenges are further exacerbated by the long-standing tension and complexity of water rights, access, and liability over New Mexico’s decreasing water resources. These dynamics have fueled disputes over the best ways to manage New Mexico’s waterways and rivers, and resulted in campaigns pushed by water users to divert watersheds, use water instead of preserve it, and/or prioritize short term use over long-term water quality impacts.
New Mexico also has numerous groundwater superfund sites due to mining, military, and other industrial operations. For example, western New Mexico has 259 legacy mine sites that produced uranium, 137 of which have no record of reclamation. These sites continue to leach uranium and waste into the watershed, land, and surrounding communities on an ongoing basis, which has led to high levels of cancer, wildlife die-off, and other impacts.
In the desert, more than most places, we are constantly reminded that without a clean, sustainable supply of water, we can’t survive. The challenge of meeting the growing demands for water with the same – or diminished – supply, and how we meet that challenge, is likely to define the future of our Land of Enchantment.
Río Grande del Norte National Monument
The Río Grande carves a deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash, nearby cottonwoods and willows shelter abundant songbirds and waterfowl, and an amazing array of wildlife dwells among the piñon and juniper woodlands and the mountaintops of ponderosa.
Photo: Flickr BLM
Know the Score > Take Action
Strategies for Water
Actions that promote healthy rivers and a clean, sustainable supply of water for New Mexicans:
In August, 2021, Governor Lujan Grisham issued an executive order committing her administration to protecting 30% of the state’s lands and watersheds by 2030. She also announced that an additional 20% would be protected as climate stabilization areas. While most of the attention in the 30×30 campaign has focused on lands, protecting water resources is also critical to tackling the climate crisis. A warming climate has already increased the temperature of rivers, streams and lakes, both directly and indirectly through diminished snowfall runoff and more unpredictable rainfall; lower quantity means the water heats faster. Rising temperatures dry soil faster and deeper, meaning that more snowmelt and rain are absorbed into parched earth and do not percolate to recharge aquifers. Actions taken under 30×30 can restore and increase headwater wet meadows and wetlands, acting as sponges to hold onto water longer and release it through the season. Planting native trees and shrubs can shade streams and help reduce evaporation, while also providing food and habitat. Funds from 30×30 can also be used to expand voluntary – and popular – conservation easement projects on private lands, including tribal lands, helping restore ecosystem functions to farm and ranch land that can recharge aquifers and provide habitat and food for wildlife.
Actions that threaten our rivers and water resources:
No thank you!
Since the late 1940’s, chemicals called “PFAS” have been used in a number of consumer goods – from carpets to firefighting foams and more. Over time, these chemicals have slowly leached into our water systems, including our drinking and groundwater. PFAS are known to cause cancers, immune system problems, and liver and kidney disease. PFAS was detected in the groundwater near Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases, with serious impacts to some dairies near Cannon. The New Mexico Environment Department tried to get the Air Force to accept responsibility, but they claimed immunity from state action. However, in late October, 2021, under pressure from Governor Lujan Grisham and others, the EPA announced they would add four PFAS constituents to their list of regulated chemicals.
Communicate with the Governor and your Legislators
Whether you’re congratulating them on their score or expressing your disappointment, be direct, courteous and polite.
The most important part is letting them know that you are paying close attention to how they vote or, in the case of the Governor, what actions she takes on legislation that affects our air, land, and water.
Calling your legislator directly and sending letters through regular mail remain by far the most effective ways to communicate with your legislators.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor can always be contacted at the State Capitol. Except during the legislative session, state legislators should be contacted in their home districts, as listed on the current Legislators page.