Families in Chupadero measured the drought by the bucketful last week as their community water system went dry.
Several families in the village north of Santa Fe started their
mornings with buckets in hand, dipping out water from an irrigation
ditch to fill their toilets.
"We have almost no water at all," David Roybal, 70, said Monday,
noting his daughter had just dropped off jugs of drinking and cooking
water she brought from Albuquerque. "We go to my mother-in-law's house
in Santa Fe to bathe."
One well serving 55 families in the village is dry, and the other
well is struggling, said Jack Miller, water master for the Chupadero
Water and Sewage Corp. On Monday, the community's irrigation ditch also
was down to a trickle, now that the mountain snowpack that feeds it is
The working community well is producing just 3,000 gallons a day,
about a third of what the families need and not enough to keep the
waterlines for the whole system pressurized. The pumps are frequently
turned off to prevent the motor from burning out. "The gallons per
minute are so low," said Linda Miller, Jack Miller's wife. "A lot of
people are without any water at all."
About 60 Chupadero families are on private wells, and the Millers
put out a call asking neighbors to help each other through the crisis.
Linda Miller, president of the community water association for the
last seven years, called an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss
options with state and county officials.
Those who attended the meeting helped the Chupadero residents devise
a water plan. In the short run, Jack Miller will ration water, allowing
members to use it from 5:30 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. In between, he'll
run the pump and attempt to fill the storage tank.
In the long term, Miller said, members are asked to donate a site for another well.
Chupadero is on an 1894 land grant. It is bordered on two sides by
pueblo land, and on the other two sides by neighboring village Rio en
Medio and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The villagers cut a deal with
Rio en Medio to run a ditch to Chupadero a century ago so they could
share in stream waters from the mountains. For decades, villagers
sustained themselves with gardening, farming and livestock. Roybal said
the unlined ditch also helped replenish the shallow aquifers on which
local wells depend.
The water and sewer association was founded in 1975. This isn't the
first time residents have had problems with the system. A drought in
2004 prompted the community to seek funding from the state Legislature
to dig another well. The village received $150,000 in 2005, but "we
didn't do all the proper steps we were supposed to with the state
engineer, and we got our hands slapped," Linda Miller said.
The community installed a 20,000-gallon water tank and was able to
start a volunteer fire department. Now, there's not enough water to fill
the tank. If there's a fire, Jack Miller said, the water in the sole
pumper truck and tanker won't last long.
The community applied for more than $1 million from the state Water
Trust Board in 2010 in hopes of revamping the system and putting in
another water tank to get residents through the dry times. Funding fell
through, Miller said, and "we're kind of stuck now."
Matthew Holmes, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Water
Association, said it's hard to know yet whether drought and declining
water is the Chupadero system's real problem. He said his office always
gets a wave of calls for help, especially during drought. Sometimes a
clogged well casing is the problem.
At Monday night's meeting, the rural water association recommended a
company to clean the well casing to help increase production. "If that
doesn't work, we'll establish a water shuttle to bring water to
residents," Miller said.
New Mexico has 650 community water systems, of which 486 are members
of the rural water association, including Chupadero's. Many of the
systems are 40 to 60 years old.
"The No. 1 thing we see when we go out to evaluate community systems is just poor infrastructure," Holmes said.
It is expensive to replace wells, lines and tanks on the systems,
and the number of users to share the cost burden is often small and made
up of people on fixed or low incomes. The community systems tend to
postpone maintenance and don't raise member fees, making it tough to
keep the water facilities in good working order, Holmes said.
Roybal, who also is mayordomo of the Acequia de Chupadero and its 67
parciantes, said every year there seems to be less water. "Global
warming, maybe," he said. "I'm sure we're not the only ones going
He said there's no more water for irrigators now and it is only May.
"Even if we get rain now, it pretty much goes straight into the ground
because it is so dry," he said.
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