We’ve seen a lot of news media attention in New Mexico’s drought of 2013 to the little village of Magdalena, where the wells earlier this month went dry. Small towns are especially vulnerable in drought. But as I dug into the data the last few weeks, I realized that journalistically swooping down on the town that ran out may be missing something:
[L]ike Sherlock Holmes’ curious case of the dog that did not bark in the night, a key part of the story of the drought of 2013 in rural New Mexico may be the communities that have not been in the news, because they have not run out of water.
While solid numbers are hard to come by, some in the state’s water management community say they believe there are fewer small community water problems in 2013 than in the last major drought, of 2002-03. With the severity of the current drought, water tables all across New Mexico are dropping. But many communities threatened by drought last time around have upgraded their systems, making them more resilient.
After a similar drought ten years ago, the state did an analysis of the towns that went dry:
The 2005 report found that such infrastructure neglect was a common denominator in the communities that lost their water during the 2002-03 drought. “Almost all of these ‘emergencies’ were in fact due to a chronic lack of adequate management, maintenance, and system planning,” the report concluded. The communities where water systems failed “were not robust enough to handle the stress of drought conditions,” the report found.