Back in the late 1970s, when Santa Fe started bursting at the seams, one of the era’s many water consultants told county commissioners that hydrology is as much of an art as it is a science.
I am reminded of this not because of deep thoughts about water in the Southwest but because of a text messaging error over our possibly faltering Well No. 2 in Placitas this morning — actually, the guesswork in anything involving water and wells.
This morning’s confusion: One of the smartphones involved in repair work communications kept “auto-correcting” the word “electrician” to “electrocution.”
Obviously, I am still alive, but I had been at Well No. 2 only a couple of hours earlier to reset the “Coyote,” an electric switchbox that was flashing a red light and reading “voltage overload” before dawn.
Our is a small community water system, in a supposedly good aquifer, but the fragile, electric-powered equipment needed to get water to our homes from 600 feet below the ground can easily trigger head-scratching, shoulder-shrugging and, sometimes, crossing of communication wires.
Things are much worse when actual water supply is in question, and our current issues might involve no more than a layer of silt and a clogged pump; better yet, just a bad connection. But it’s all difficult to diagnose when some of the answers lie underground.
I know there is some science about what goes on down there in the unseen water mazes called aquifers. I’ve seen geologic studies, drilling samples and well data used to support claims of water abundance. And I’ve always hoped there are topographical clues, like my aquifer lying under the Las Huertas Creek drainage and water dumping into the Galisteo Basin from the tail end end of the Sangre de Cristos, south of Santa Fe.
But I think I also remember a report that said Rio Grande recharge from rain and snow atop the Sandia Mountains takes 50 years. And that’s water traveling underground.
And one of the ironies of living in this neck of the woods is seeing clouds gather and darken miles away and, in nearly the blink of an eye, sending what seems a generous percentage of our annual rainfall speeding down arroyos to the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte.
I acknowledge that human water systems here always have been complex, although the tools of the trade used to be just sticks and shovels.
This area along Las Huertas Creek has been farmed, small and large, for thousands of years by Native Americans and Hispanic successors. Two creeks flow into the drainage (both ran year-around when I moved here), but you also can still see the outline of an old acequia and old well shafts dot the valley floor. Today, we have several wells, of varying ages, providing water to some 50 homes.
But with or without knowledge, I am going nowhere near Well No. 2 again today. I’m just gonna pray.
Better yet, why worry about drainages, water tables, drilling depths and electric-powered pumps, to say nothing of all those new straws going into the ground all around ours?
I could move Albuquerque or Santa Fe, where they seem to have stopped worrying about groundwater wells, relying heavily on water from Colorado River tributaries in the San Juan Basin, piped under the Continental Divide into the Chama and on to the mighty Rio Grande. Seems foolproof.