Water in the Desert

I wish I’d had a camera, but I’ll have to attempt a word picture instead.

I was out riding in the foothills with some friends yesterday morning, doing repeats up the road to the Elena Gallegos picnic area. It’s a gentle and persistent climb that winds up an alluvial fan splaying out of the Sandias. It’s a classic desert landscape, where Albuquerque’s wealth has found a bit of elbow room, meaning the road is lined with discrete adobe-style houses. Big houses.

Off to the right as we were riding up the first time, I saw the spray of sprinklers from one of these big houses, backlit by the sun, watering some sort of big expanse of lawn. The backlighting highlighted the effect of the wind, which was blowing away a significant fraction of water the homeowner was apparently attempting to get on some sort of lawn. The home was on a slight hill above the road, so we couldn’t see the lawn, just the water blowing south, to someplace presumably other than its intended destination.

It’s a beautiful desert landscape, just below the edge of the piñon juniper, with sage and yucca and a gravelly alluvium well suited for not lawn. The water was still running when we made two more repeats up the hill, meaning at least half an hour.

This is groundwater, being pumped out of an aquifer at a rate substantially higher than it is being recharged. This is how we use water in the desert.


  1. Please, John, you’re right, but it’s how “some people” use water in the desert. Not “we.” No lawn at my house not far from where you rode.

  2. Reminds me of a visit to Pheonix a few years go during the peak of summer. I was driving around that fairly ugly city and saw in the distance a beautiful green, wooded area. As I got closer I realized it was the grassy lawn of a cemetery.

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