Water is the lifeblood of New Mexico. It comes from two basic sources: rain or melting snow (surface water) and groundwater beneath the surface.
Almost all of New Mexico's surface water originates as precipitation, which evaporates or is taken up by plants (called transpiration). The rest flows into rivers and streams or percolates into the earth, replenishing aquifers.
Aquifers are underground reservoirs that store water that can be pumped to surface level for drinking, gardening or irrigation purposes. The aquifer beneath Albuquerque is called the Santa Fe Group aquifer and is comprised of several layers of rock and gravel that range in thickness from 15 to 1,800 feet.
There are about 93 wells, distributed over 200 square miles, that pump water from the aquifer. Most of this water goes directly into storage reservoirs that hold between one and ten million gallons each.
The city has been able to offset some of the shrinking of the aquifer by sending 48,200 acre feet of Colorado River water from Sandoval County each year to the Rio Grande to help balance out the pumping of groundwater in the city. The water has also helped recharge the aquifer and will provide additional water for a few decades, according to David Morris, spokesman for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
But as the climate changes, experts predict that water in New Mexico will be even scarcer. Thinner snowpacks mean less runoff into rivers and streams, which means fewer aquifer refills, and more people will have to pump groundwater.