At the eastern end of Sandia Road NW in Albuquerque is a ratty but important piece of Albuquerque’s water management history – City Well #2. Maintained now by the US Geological Survey, City #2 was installed in the late 1950s, a pivotal time in Albuquerque water management.
The community’s population was booming. To meet the new demand, the city’s water department was drilling groundwater wells all over town. Newly appointed State Engineer Steve Reynolds saw a problem, and was trying to put a lid on expanding groundwater depletions by requiring the city to offset any future impacts of pumping by retiring surface water rights.
Litigation shenanigans ensued.
Four groundwater wells were drilled in the summer of 1957 to begin monitoring what the heck was going on beneath the ground – a novel water management approach in the go-go years of the 1950s, when population all over the West was growing rapidly and communities were sinking groundwater wells with reckless abandon.
We’ve been monitoring the four wells – by Los Poblanos Open Space, in Los Duranes, by the tracks near downtown, and this one on Sandia NW – ever since, with the faithful USGS technicians making two measurements a year, early spring and late summer. It’s a wonderful dataset, telling a rich story.
When I first visited City #2 in the winter of 2020, it was flanked by a trash bin and an old discarded couch.
It also was beginning to show the effects of lower river flows.
The impact is largely indirect. When the Rio Grande is down, Albuquerque shuts down its San Juan-Chama diversions, pumping groundwater to meet municipal needs. We’ve been doing that for the last copuple of years, and you can see the impact in the graph above. After a steady rebound of more than a decade, our aquifer has begun dropping again. Whether this is an ominous sign of trouble ahead, or simply The Plan – use the aquifer as a drought reserve in times like this – is a point of debate. (I tend to come down on the side of the latter, notorious optimist that I am.)
Google streetview suggests the couch has since been removed, which I guess can be counted as progress.