Water in the Desert


Originally uploaded by heinemanfleck.

This doesn’t much have the look of the dramatic engineering works you typically think of when you think of western water projects, but at the end of the line, you’ve always got to get the water out that last few miles.

In this case, it’s new pipe being laid about a mile east of my house to carry Albuquerque’s Colorado River water to home in my neighborhood. We are, indeed, on the other side of the continental divide, which make the engineering all the more classically western. Not enough water here in this drainage basin (in this case, the Rio Grande)? No problem, we’ll pipe some in from the next basin over!

It’s not really “Colorado River water”. To get our share under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, we have three little diversion dams that grab water from tributaries to the San Juan, which is a tributary to the Colorado. We pipe it under the continental divide and into the Chama River, where we then use the natural river courses to carry it down to where we use it – hence the name, San Juan-Chama Project. We currently mine groundwater to drink here in Albuquerque, but by some time next year we’ll be drinking water from yet another classic bit of western plumbing.