If persistent drought and high temperatures aren’t enough to make New Mexicans wonder how a changing climate will impact the state, a new study on groundwater in the Southwest should be setting off alarm bells.
NASA and the University of California, Irvine, found that drought and well pumping are draining groundwater in the Colorado River Basin, a drawdown that could affect some 40 million people in seven states, including New Mexico.
The depletion — in the short term — has greater implications for California, Nevada and Arizona. We still have reason to pay attention, though. The groundwater helps recharge surface water, a rainy day account for drier times.
The recent study, accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, discovered a loss of 41 million acre-feet of groundwater between 2004 and November 2013, accounting for the majority of all water depleted in the region.
The total water sucked out of the ground is equivalent to almost two Lake Meads.
A collaboration among researchers from UC-Irvine, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the study used satellites to measure water mass from above and below ground. No more guessing, in other words.
What this tells residents of the arid Southwest is that we must manage our groundwater better. We are depleting our savings too quickly and at a rate that is unsustainable for the long-term, especially as dry times continue.
Relying on groundwater to shore up surface water is not automatic going forward. With snowmelt declining and failing to recharge the aquifers, water is not being restored.
And despite the welcome and refreshing rains, New Mexico does remain in a drought. Dry is the new normal.
— The Santa Fe New Mexican