Lesson 17 of 22
In Progress

Water Use Today

February 14, 2023

How do people use water?

Water has many uses that you are familiar with, including drinking, showering, brushing teeth, cooking, and wastewater. New Mexico has very limited water resources, and how we use and preserve it is crucial. Unfortunately, water on the surface and from underground reservoirs do not get refilled at the rate that they are being used.  This is why it is so important that the watersheds we use are restored and protected. See the graphic below on water use in New Mexico (University of New Mexico, Samantha Stroud):

Water is also used for energy and material production. Did you know that it takes 18 gallons of water to produce 1kw hour of electricity? The average household uses about 800-1,000 kw hours per month. That’s a lot of water, and it all comes from local watersheds!

Today the New Mexico Office of State Engineers (OSE) is in charge of determining if water rights are valid, if someone who has not used their water rights must give up that water right and if water use has to be cut back.  The problem is that most water in every river has been appropriated (given to a person or entity who then has a right to use it) at least once if not more than once.  All unappropriated water of rivers are declared to belong to the public and can be subject to appropriation for beneficial use (Article 16 of the New Mexico Constitution) but there is rarely any unappropriated water.  Groundwater is another source but we are finding that even the water unseen to us in the ground has often been overused from wells pumping water, leading to springs and rivers drying up.

Climate change is anticipated to result in 16%-28% less water flowing in New Mexico’s rivers over the next 50 years  (NM Bureau of Mines Bulletin 164, 2022).  We need to anticipate periods of higher intensity rain storms (warmer air means more moisture evaporates into the air) and more extended droughts.  To become more resilient and prepared, we need to do everything we can to reduce unecessary uses of water, use the water we have carefully, and slow, sink, and spread water where we can to keep our watersheds, aquifers, and soils in good hydrologic condition.