Aquifer beneath Albuquerque slowly refilling

October 6, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The aquifer beneath Albuquerque is show[auth] ing signs it is refilling, nearly five years after the city shifted from pumping groundwater to using the Rio Grande for its supply, according to a new report.

Measurements from various city areas show differences in the recharge, but at one spot the water level has risen by 9 feet, the U.S. Geological Survey report shows. There’s still a long way to go, since water levels dropped between 80 feet 120 feet since pumping began early in the last century, but water experts say the measurements show what was expected once the city switched to river water is actually happening.

“I think it’s good news,” John Stomp, chief operating officer for the water utility, told the Albuquerque Journal for a report in Sunday’s editions ( ). “Everything we thought was going to happen is happening.”

The city spent $500 million for a dam, water treatment plant and new distribution pipes to reduce reliance on dwindling groundwater supplies. The new system uses water that is sent through tunnels from the headwaters of the San Juan River, then dumped into a Rio Grande tributary and withdrawn when it reaches the city.

“It is being recharged,” said John Hawley, an independent groundwater expert who worked on some of the early studies that led to the water supply shift. “That was what we hoped would happen.”

Although Albuquerque groundwater levels are rising, the aquifer is still dropping in other communities where pumping continues. In Rio Rancho, for example, the aquifer at one spot has dropped 15 feet since 1998.

Albuquerque has cut the amount being pulled from the river because of the ongoing drought and is pumping more groundwater than planned. But the aquifer is improving despite those shortfalls.

This is the third consecutive year in which drought forced the water utility to curtail its river use. Stomp said his staff was able to resume Rio Grande water diversions in late September after storms swelled the river’s flow.

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