NM city, victim of government burn, now faces water shortage (2022)

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, buzzing chainsaws interrupt the serenity. Crews are hustling to remove charred trees and other debris that have been washing down the mountainsides in the wake of the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, choking rivers and streams.

Heavy equipment operators are moving boulders dislodged by the daily torrential summer rains that have followed the flames.

Workers have dug trenches and built barriers to help keep the flood of muddy, ash-laden runoff from causing more damage so it won’t further contaminate the drinking water supply for the community of more than 10,000 that sits at the edge of the forest.

The clock is ticking for Las Vegas, a college town and economic hub for ranchers and farmers who have called this rural expanse of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range home for generations.

It has less than 30 days of drinking water left.

Events have been canceled in an effort to discourage more people from coming to town. Residents are showering with buckets in hopes of salvaging extra water for other uses. Restaurants are worried they may have to cut back on serving their signature red and green chile dishes. The three universities that call Las Vegas home are coming up with conservation plans as the school year kicks off.

“It is disheartening to our families and our children to not know that they may not have water in a month from now,” said Leo Maestas, the city manager.

It was just months earlier that thousands of residents from Las Vegas and dozens of surrounding mountain villages were forced to pack up their belongings, load their livestock into trailers and flee as the wildfire raged, fueled by unprecedented hot, dry winds.

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They watched from a distance as an area larger than Los Angeles was devoured by a conflagration sparked by the federal government when two planned burns meant to reduce the threat of wildfire went awry due to a combination of human error and outdated modeling that didn’t account for extreme weather. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and livelihoods lost.

Amid an undercurrent of heartbreak and anger, residents are feeling the sting yet again as their water supply dwindles as a result and the pressures of climate change show no signs of letting up.

“I mean what else could possibly happen?” asked Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo, not wanting to tempt fate.

Trujillo said the community is no stranger to watering restrictions as drought has long been part of life in northern New Mexico. He and other residents have become experts at using just half the water of the average American, or about 44 gallons.

“So asking the citizens to do even more is quite an imposition. It’s very hard,” said Trujillo, as he prepared for federal emergency managers to arrive with another truckload of bottled water for distribution to community members.

Utility managers have been unable to tap into their usual source — the Gallinas River — since it has been choked by ash and debris.

Trujillo declared an emergency in late July and New Mexico’s governor followed with her own declaration, freeing up funding to help pay for the installation of a temporary treatment system that will allow for water from a nearby lake to be used to supplement supplies.

City officials expect that system to be installed next week. It will be capable of treating about 1.5 millions gallons (5.7 million litres) a day, about what the city consumes daily. But it’s only a Band-Aid, Trujillo said.

(Video) Watch NBC News NOW Live - July 3

Like other western cities, Las Vegas is in search of alternative sources of water as nearby rivers and reservoirs shrink amid hotter, drier conditions. The wildfire complicates matters.

New Mexico’s largest city, for example, was forced to stop pulling water from the Rio Grande this year as it dried up within Albuquerque city limits for the first time in decades. And for the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the western drought becomes more acute.

Las Vegas is hoping the temporary treatment system will slow down the ticking clock as crews continue work upstream to keep more ash, debris and sediment from clogging the Gallinas River that feeds the city’s reservoirs.

Trujillo said a permanent treatment system on the river could cost more than $100 million, far beyond the city’s means. There’s no timetable for designing or building such a system.

What is heartbreaking for the mayor is that the region is experiencing one of the best monsoon seasons in several years. Had it not been for the fire and the contamination, the city would have been able to capture the storm runoff pulsing through the river and bolster its reservoirs for the future as drought persists.

For Trujillo, his neighbors, the governor and members of Congress, the blame for the current water crisis falls squarely on the federal government.

“We’re going to continue to hold them responsible and expect them to pay for all of the improvements that we’re going to have to make,” the mayor said.

Daniel Patterson, a resource adviser with the U.S. Forest Service, called it an all-hands-on-deck approach as the agency works with local officials to protect the watershed that supplies Las Vegas. He acknowledged the Forest Service’s responsibility to restore the watershed as well as people’s access to their private property and traditional practices like gathering firewood from the forest.

(Video) Watch NBC News NOW Live - July 1

“Those are all top priorities right now,” he said. “But it’s a heavy lift and it’s a long haul.”

President Joe Biden flew over the burn scar during a quick visit in June, promising the federal government would step up. Still, many residents feel abandoned.

Danny Lopez, who owns a ranch just outside of Las Vegas, called the past few months a nightmare. The fire charred nearly one square mile of land where he used to graze his cattle. His fences burned and the roof of his home was singed, damage now worsened by the summer rains.

His alfalfa fields have been compromised by the mud, ash and debris rolling off the surrounding hillsides. And with electricity cut off for months, he and his neighbors lost everything they had stockpiled in their fridges and freezers.

His request for aid from FEMA is tangled in red tape, with federal officials requiring something that simply does not exist for many rural properties — a street address.

“They don’t understand the devastation,” said Lopez, who has been forced to reduce his herd by half. “They don’t know how the people live here and how they get by here.”

Charlie Sandoval is the owner of Charlie’s Bakery Café on Las Vegas’ historic plaza. It has served as a gathering spot for the community and travelers for decades, made famous by its homemade chile recipes, fresh tortillas and cinnamon rolls.

It takes as much as 13 gallons (49 litres) of water to make one big batch of chile. Then there’s the water needed for the tortillas and the dough for the pastries.

(Video) Watch NBC News NOW Live - July 2

“Everything that we do just takes water,” Sandoval said. “And it just really scares me. What would happen if we run out of water, you know?”

The bakery is using more plastic and paper items to cut down on dishwashing. But supplies are expensive, and the bottom line is taking a hit.

If more restrictions are imposed, Sandoval worries about how long he can keep the bakery open and what that might mean for his employees.

At the end of July, the city implemented Stage 6 restrictions, meaning no more outdoor watering, no refilling of swimming pools, restaurants cannot serve water to customers unless requested, and no new water accounts can be activated.

For City Manager Maestas, it’s been a sleepless month. More than once he’s jumped into his pickup in the middle of the night and rushed down to check on a diversion point along the Gallinas River. Standing there, he stares down an impossible decision: If the contaminated river rises fast enough post-monsoon, will he direct the flow into town and flood homes? Or will he further pollute the city’s back-up drinking water supply?

Fear, sadness and then anxiety set in. He wants to make the right decision.

“No city official or government official should ever be put in that predicament,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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FAQs

What happens when there is a shortage of water? ›

When waters run dry, people can't get enough to drink, wash, or feed crops, and economic decline may occur. In addition, inadequate sanitation—a problem for 2.4 billion people—can lead to deadly diarrheal diseases, including cholera and typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses.

What is the main reason for water Scarcity? ›

Major Causes of Water Scarcity

Increased human consumption. Overuse and wastage of water. A global rise in freshwater demand. Overuse of aquifers and its consequent slow recharge.

Will there be a water crisis? ›

Half of the world's population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025. Some 700 million people could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. By 2040, roughly 1 in 4 children worldwide will be living in areas of extremely high water stress.

Is water an issue in New Mexico? ›

New Mexico also has long periods of drought and inconsistent precipitation, so relying on surface water can lead to shortages as well. Water withdrawals from New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and Mexico hav e greatly reduced the volume of the Rio Grande ov er the past 50 years.

How can we solve the problem of water shortage? ›

What is your top solution for the water crisis?
  1. Education/Awareness.
  2. New Conservation Technologies.
  3. Recycle Wastewater.
  4. Improve Irrigation and Agriculture Water Use.
  5. Water Pricing.
  6. Energy Efficient Desal Plants.
  7. Rain Water Harvesting.
  8. Community Governance and Partnerships.

How can we prevent water shortage? ›

Managing Water Scarcity
  1. Installing special tanks that store rainwater for irrigation.
  2. Using drip irrigation for more efficient watering.
  3. Establishing schools for farmers where they learn how to adapt to climate change with drought-resistant crops, crop rotation, and sustainable ways to raise livestock.

What states are running out of water? ›

For the second year in a row, the US states of Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the Western United States endures an extreme drought, federal officials have announced.

Why do we need to conserve and manage our water resources? ›

There is a necessity to conserve water resources on account of the following reasons :i To ensure food securityii For the continuation of our livelihoods and productive activities. iii To safeguard ourselves from health-related hazards. iv To prevent the degradation of our natural ecosystems.

Who is affected by water scarcity? ›

Women and children are the most affected — children because they're more vulnerable to diseases caused by dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day.

What state has the most drinking water? ›

Hawaii ranks No. 1 for drinking water quality and No.

What state has the most water? ›

Alaska has the most water

The state with the largest total area of water is Alaska, which has 94,743 square miles of water. Alaska contains approximately 12,000 rivers, 3 million lakes larger than 5 acres, and numerous creeks and ponds, accounting for more than 14% of the state's total area.

What US city has the best water? ›

City Rankings
OVERALL RANKCityOverall Score
1Cary, NC88.339
2Winston-Salem, NC85.504
3Yonkers, NY84.902
4Bellevue, WA84.757
73 more rows
13 May 2021

Is New Mexico in a drought 2022? ›

As of May 4, 2022, 98.9% of the state is under a moderate drought, 95.8% of the state is under a severe drought, 68% is under an extreme drought, and 15.7% of the state is under exceptional drought conditions.

Why can't you drink the water in New Mexico? ›

High Levels Of Arsenic In Albuquerque Tap Water

The most recent tap water quality report for Albuquerque reported an average arsenic concentration of 2 parts per billion, with a maximum measured level of 9 parts per billion. This level is just slightly below the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion.

Who uses the most water in New Mexico? ›

Quick Facts: Over ¾ of New Mexico's water goes toward irrigated agriculture (76%). Sprinkler and Flood irrigation are used in about 97% of irrigated acres in New Mexico. In the home, toilets use the most water, followed by washing machines & showers.

How can the community improve water supply? ›

Implement rainwater harvesting systems to collect and store rainwater for drinking or recharging underground aquifers. Build wells to extract groundwater from underground aquifers. Provide home water-treatment capability through the use of filters, solar disinfection, or flocculants, to make drinking water safe.

How can we increase the source of water? ›

You could:
  1. Dam a river and create a reservoir to store water.
  2. Dig more wells to tap groundwater.
  3. Build more water towers to store water.
  4. Build a new wastewater-treatment plant to recycle wastewater.

How does water shortage affect economy? ›

The lack of water will have a domino effect on communities: local commerce declines, incomes go down, tax revenues decrease, population declines due to lack of employment opportunities, cities and the surrounding communities shrink dangerously.

Why is water important? ›

Water helps your body:

Keep a normal temperature. Lubricate and cushion joints. Protect your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues. Get rid of wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements.

What year will we run out of water? ›

Unless water use is drastically reduced, severe water shortage will affect the entire planet by 2040. "There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today".

What state has the worst drought? ›

The most severe drought conditions are in the Western part of the country in states like Texas, California and Arizona, where the extreme heat and lack of rainfall has caused water levels at Lake Mead to recede so much at least two human skeletons and a sunken WW2 era vessel have been found in parts of the now-exposed ...

What city has the cleanest water? ›

1. Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa's capital city ranked best on our list of U.S. cities with the cleanest drinking water. The insurance industry center and home of the Iowa Caucus had the second lowest level of bacteria in its drinking water and ranked in the top 15 for lowest levels of lead, turbidity and haloacetic acid.

Why should we save water essay? ›

Water is not only important for human beings but for the entire ecosystem. Without enough water, the existence of humans, as well as animals, is next to impossible. After fresh air, water is the second most important natural resource for the survival of any living being.

What are the benefits of conservation of water? ›

Here are some reasons why you might want to use less water: Save money on your power bills by using less energy to heat and pump water. Delay or prevent expansion of costly water and wastewater treatment plants in your community which can save money on taxes. Reduce water shortage frequency and impacts.

How can we conserve water resources? ›

Always have a measure of how many buckets of water is wasted in a day and try to reduce. Do not run more water than necessary while washing and cleaning clothes, utensils, etc. Rainwater harvesting is one of the best method used for conserving water.

How does water affect our lives? ›

Our bodies use water in all the cells, organs, and tissues, to help regulate body temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Because our bodies lose water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it's crucial to rehydrate and replace water by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water.

How do you solve the water problem in the villages? ›

Implementation of direct borewell recharge wherever possible to improve the availability of water for drinking and irrigation needs. Repairing existing but unused water structures. Improving community participation in managing water resources through competitions and rewards.

What is the cleanest US state? ›

1. California Cleanliness Score: 7.36

California is the cleanest state overall with a cleanliness score of 7.36.

What state has the purest water? ›

Hawaii ranks first in the nation for air and water quality, as well as in the overall natural environment category.

Which state has the best tasting water? ›

States with the Best Tap Water in the US
  • Minnesota.
  • Massachusetts.
  • South Dakota.
  • Missouri.
  • Connecticut.
  • Rhode Island.
  • New Hampshire.
  • Vermont.

Which 4 states use the most water? ›

From 2005 to 2010, California consistently used more water than any other state, followed by Texas, Idaho, Florida, and Colorado. California has been in a severe drought for over four years, and Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the drought in January 2015. California's snowpack and rivers have ...

What states have the most underground water? ›

Which areas in the United States are most dependent on groundwater?
Mississippi84%
California67%
Hawaii63%
Nebraska59%
Florida63%
6 more rows

Who Has Best tap water in United States? ›

✔️ Which States Have the Best Water?
  • Kansas. Kansas' public water supplies provide water that meets or exceeds state and federal guidelines for clean water to around 96% of their residents. ...
  • Rhode Island. ...
  • Missouri. ...
  • South Dakota. ...
  • Oregon. ...
  • New Hampshire. ...
  • Massachusetts. ...
  • Connecticut.

What's the cleanest water to drink? ›

Tap water is generally a better choice because it's less expensive and doesn't create single-use plastic waste. The pH level and mineral content varies between different types and sources of water, but these don't drastically affect the overall healthfulness of the water.

Who has the best drinking water? ›

"The city of Singapore has one of the world's highest quality drinking water sources," the Singapore National Water Agency reported on its website.

What is the cleanest bottled water? ›

Best Overall: Essentia Ionized Water

Essentia Water's ionized bottled water is an excellent product. It's safe, clean, tastes great, and has all the right certificates. It's a supercharged and ionized alkaline water that's filtered through a proprietary process that purifies Essentia's water, making it 99.9% pure.

When was the last major drought in New Mexico? ›

Drought in New Mexico from 2000–Present

Since 2000, the longest duration of drought (D1–D4) in New Mexico lasted 329 weeks beginning on May 1, 2001, and ending on August 14, 2007. The most intense period of drought occurred the week of January 19, 2021, where D4 affected 54.27% of New Mexico land.

Will Elephant Butte ever be full again? ›

Elephant Butte will probably be dead in 75 years. That sounds like a long time, but it's just a few generations of farmers, and then they'll be in a world of hurt for water.” The Elephant Butte dam was built from 1912 to 1916.

How long is NM drought? ›

A new study by climate scientists found the last two decades in the Southwest are the driest period in at least 1,200 years.

Can I drink tap water in New Mexico? ›

Drinking water supplied by UNM is safe, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

What does drinking water in Mexico do? ›

As a rule, you should not drink tap water in Mexico. Generally, the water is purified at the source, but the distribution system may allow the water to be contaminated en route to the tap.

Is tap water in Albuquerque safe? ›

Is Tap Water In Albuquerque Safe To Drink? We have been recognized for our good taste as well as water quality, and all federal and state water quality standards have been met. It is important to remember that the Water Authority provides safe drinking water that meets all state and federal drinking water standards.

How much is an acre foot of water worth in New Mexico? ›

Recent prices for water rights have ranged as high as $35,000 to $45,000 per right to consume an acre-foot each year in the Santa Fe area to $9,000 to $35,000 in the Middle Rio Grande to $2,400 in the Roswell Artesian Basin.

Can you sell your water rights in New Mexico? ›

Water marketing is a complex subject and the answer to the question “is there an active water market in New Mexico?” is mixed. Legally, a right to use water can be sold under the current law and those sales are occurring throughout the state.

What is the number one use of water in New Mexico? ›

While agriculture's economic impact in New Mexico is usually just a few percent a year, it's by far the largest consumer of water — irrigation accounted for 76% of water withdrawals in 2015, according to the latest available state engineer report.

What else will be affected if there is no water? ›

Without enough water, the kidneys use more energy and wear on tissue. Your kidneys need to function adequately to flush out waste from your blood. Eventually, your kidneys will cease to function without adequate water intake. Other organs in your body may also cease to function without water.

How does water shortage affect the economy? ›

The lack of water will have a domino effect on communities: local commerce declines, incomes go down, tax revenues decrease, population declines due to lack of employment opportunities, cities and the surrounding communities shrink dangerously.

What states are running out of water? ›

For the second year in a row, the US states of Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the Western United States endures an extreme drought, federal officials have announced.

How long can a hospice patient live without water? ›

According to a study, a person cannot survive more than 8 to 21 days without taking any food or water. If the patient is terminally ill, he may live within a few days or hours after stopping any food or water intake.

How long can an elderly person live without water? ›

Dying from dehydration is generally not uncomfortable once the initial feelings of thirst subside. If you stop eating and drinking, death can occur as early as a few days, though for most people, approximately ten days is the average. In rare instances, the process can take as long as several weeks.

What is the social impact of water scarcity? ›

The impacts of water scarcity affect families and their communities. Without clean, easily accessible water, they can become locked in poverty for generations. Children drop out of school and parents struggle to make a living.

What is the importance of water? ›

Water helps your body:

Keep a normal temperature. Lubricate and cushion joints. Protect your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues. Get rid of wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements.

What are the benefits of water supply? ›

Table 9.6Benefits of Improved Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation
BenefitWater
Health, economic savingsCosts related to diseases, such as health care, productivity losses, and premature mortality
Convenience time savingsSaved travel and waiting time for water collection
6 more rows

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