Are water restrictions New Mexico’s future?
By Angela Simental
For the Bulletin
On May 5, California approved a 25-percent cut on water use in urban areas in an effort to conserve water after four years of intense drought. With these historic water restrictions, could New Mexico face the same future?
“Probably. I don’t see this in the next five to 10 years, but it is definitely a look into the future for us,” said Bernd Leinauer, New Mexico State University professor and turfgrass extension specialist. “The issue in California is different than New Mexico because California is a much larger state, and California’s agriculture sector is bigger than New Mexico’s. It also has a significantly larger population as well as bigger urban areas, like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, whereas New Mexico has one, Albuquerque.”
Leinauer attended a conference in California last month where water restrictions, policies and solutions were discussed.
“City legislators and utility representatives single out turf and give the impression that turf is the only plant that uses water in the urban landscape. There are rebate programs in place that offer up to $2 per square foot if you remove turf. But what about tress or other landscape plants? In order to address the issue a more balanced or holistic approach should be taken,” he said.
In New Mexico 80 percent of water use is in the agricultural sector, where beef, dairy and pecans have the top spots for major products. Leinauer explained that there needs to be a compromise to save water for the future. This compromise will require an honest discussion if water should be re-allocated, for example to industry with jobs, and which are the best crops to grow.
Leinauer suggested it is also important to rethink water laws, and most importantly, irrigation systems.
According to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, “Irrigators hold approximately 90 percent of the state’s surface water rights; thus, other stakeholders interested in using surface water supplies must consider agricultural interests in any attempt to obtain water. Alternative uses of surface water include municipal, industrial, recreation, water to meet endangered species act requirements, interstate compact delivery obligations, and tribal water rights claims.”
“Fifty percent of irrigation water in New Mexico could be saved if we had better irrigation systems. We are still using irrigation systems that apply technology from the 1800’s,” Leinauer said. “The surface water we use in agriculture is down to 30 percent or less. We are now pumping groundwater and that is not an infinite water resource. As we are pumping more and more ground water, we have also noticed that our groundwater is getting more saline and drops in quality.”
“People need be educated on the water requirements of the plants they have in their yards.”
Using recycled water is an option, but the public is skeptical because they believe treated water might be contaminated.