Stuff I wrote elsewhere: first-ever San Juan Chama Project shortfall

basinThe standard Bureau of Reclamation map of the Colorado River Basin has a series of red-dashed slivers beyond the physical boundaries of the basin itself, the places where we’ve chosen to artificially extend the watershed’s boundaries. In the process, we have created entire communities dependent on the success or failure of the basin’s water management policies.

One of those slivers, slicing through central New Mexico, includes my house. I live outside the basin proper, but my morning coffee is made in part with Colorado River water. Yesterday, via a dam across the Rio Grande at the north end of Albuquerque, my local water utility diverted 46.6 million gallons of water, a significant portion of which was diverted from the Colorado River Basin for use in my coffee.

This has always been the starting point for all this crazy Colorado River stuff I do, this notion that we’ve plumbed together this super-watershed and we’re now all in this together. Which is why I wrote this story in this morning’s Albuquerque Journal:

The San Juan-Chama Project, which delivers water from the mountains of southwest Colorado to central New Mexico, had the first shortfall this year in its four-decade history after three consecutive years of bad snowpack.

Water managers say the impact on Rio Grande Valley water operations was small, but the implications are significant – a demonstration that a supply once seen as dependable backup to a faltering Rio Grande might not be as reliable as once thought.

“It’s one of those things that was always a theoretical possibility, but nobody thought it would come to pass,” said David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which serves farmers.


  1. Have your thoughts on the long-term outlook for Albuquerque’s water supply evolved? Or do you still think it’s highly likely Albuquerque will have a dependable water source even by mid century?

  2. No, my thoughts haven’t changed. It’s long been clear that shortfalls in SJC water would be part of our reality, that’s always been part of my personal long term thinking on this.

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