ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) One of New Mexicos largest drinking water providers will stop diverting water from the Rio Grande to help prevent the stretch of the river that runs through Albuquerque from going dry this summer, officials said Tuesday.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority said the curtailment is expected to last until the fall as the utility switches to using groundwater exclusively over the summer to provide drinking water to customers in the metro area.
While the river's dwindling levels aren't expected to force mandatory restrictions on water use in the Albuquerque area, officials are urging people to conserve to limit the strain on the aquifer.
Carlos Bustos, the authoritys conservation manager, reports that water use is up by more than 1 billion gallons over last year. He said that's not unexpected because 2019 was a wet year and demands were lower.
Usage has been creeping up, and with river conditions as dry as they are, its a good time for folks to start tapping the brakes on outdoor consumption, he said.
The conservation goal set for this year is 127 gallons (480 liters) per person daily.
Officials are blaming poor runoff for the river conditions. Water management and irrigation agencies have been supplementing the river with water from upstream storage to meet demand.
The authority said it will continue to release surface water from Abiquiu reservoir in northern New Mexico to help keep Albuquerque's stretch wet. The utility is required by the state to cease drinking water diversions when native river flows at the Central Avenue bridge reach 122 cubic feet (3,454 liters) per second or lower. That's expected to happen later this summer.
As is typical, some stretches of the river further south already are dry.
Some experts have predicted that this summer's flows could be the worst in decades.
The river also was in dire straights in 2018, when the river began drying in spots before May. That year, the federal Bureau of Reclamation leased 20,000 acre-feet of water from the Albuquerque water authority for $2 million, but there's little extra water available this year since interstate water-sharing compacts have prevented storage in upstream reservoirs. An acre-foot is equal to about 325,850 gallons (1.2 million liters).
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order June 15 declaring that drought and severe fire conditions exist throughout the state. In addition to the concern over surface water supplies, The order highlighted the fire restrictions put in place by state and federal agencies and called on municipalities to do the same with regards to fireworks ahead of the 4th of July holiday.
The latest federal drought map shows about three-quarters of the state are dealing with some form of drought, with the area along the New Mexico-Colorado border seeing the most extreme conditions. Swaths of moderate to severe drought also are covering parts of northwestern and eastern New Mexico.
The region is on the verge of monsoon season, when summer rains begins. But forecasters have cautioned that this year could see close to or below average rainfall while temperatures will range from slight above to above average.