By Rosanne Boyett, The Cibola Beacon
Editor’s Note: The following is the first of a two-part series. See Friday’s Beacon for the second part.
(Cibola County) – “There is no life without water,” emphasized Steve Juanico, Pueblo of Acoma water department director.
He pointed out that there is never enough rain to recharge the aquifers and said, “Eventually we will all run out of water because we are pumping it out of the aquifer and using it up.”
Juanico explained, “Water has no boundaries. There are two kinds – groundwater and surface water. The Acoma [people] have always practiced conservation because water is a limited resource. We still carry out our traditions, which include praying for rain, even though lifestyles have changed during the last few centuries.”
Juanico has been with the Acoma Water Department since 2009. He challenged elected officials and area residents, “How can we recharge our aquifers instead of sending the water out of the region whenever it rains? We need a conservation statute to help everyone understand the importance of water resources.”
Almost 90 percent of New Mexico’s residents rely on groundwater for their drinking water, either from municipal supplies or private wells.
Juanico, Cynthia Spidle, Lava Soil & Water Conservation District, Dr. Sharon Walsh, NMSU-Grants natural sciences program manager, and Dr. Antonio Lara, NMSU-Las Cruces chemistry and biochemistry department, made presentations at the Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund Water Resources Community Forum that was held at NMSU-Grants on Nov. 13.
Spidle described some of the challenges that rural property owners face when providing their own water supplies, which usually are domestic wells. People rely on an adequate supply of clean water for a variety of reasons.
Toilets use the largest percentage of household water with an average of 26.7 percent; clothes washers are next with 21.7 percent; showers, 16.8, and faucets, 15.7, are the next highest uses.
A homeowner must obtain a domestic water right permit from the State Engineer, which entitles the owner to use up to three acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot is the equivalent of 325,851 gallons.
Improper siting of private wells and septic systems in rural areas threatens groundwater quality.
Other human activities also cause contamination of underground water sources.
“Leaking underground storage tanks and discarded hazardous waste, such as agricultural products, have already contaminated numerous public and private wells across New Mexico,” according to health officials.
The federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may occur in public drinking water supplies. These contaminants pose a risk to human health.
The New Mexico Environment Department provides a listing of certified water analysis laboratories for private landowners, according to state officials.
Many audience members expressed concerns about the uranium-mining legacy and the failure of federal agencies to adequately protect water resources and residents’ health from the effects of long-term exposure to radiation.
Several people reported that the Homestake Mine, north of Milan, has been contaminating the area’s groundwater since 1961.
“We can’t use our wells –not even to water our lawns or to grow crops,” said one Murray Acres’ resident. “All our water is piped in from the Village of Milan. We can’t sell our places because of the radiation contamination.”
“A couple of new uranium mines have been proposed in this watershed,” noted Dr. Sharon Walsh. Roca Honda, a new mine proposed for the Mount Taylor Ranger District, is anticipated to operate for 18 years. Each year it will use the same volume of water as the City of Santa Fe, according to NMSU-Grants scientist.
“That’s a huge amount of water that will be pumped out this aquifer,” said Walsh.
By Rosanne Boyett, The Cibola Beacon