Soon after I got carried away tweeting about water this morning, a fellow tweeter in Santa Fe spotted smoke rising from the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
I was still savoring coffee in Placitas, watching birds and enjoying the first morning in nearly a week free of wildfire smoke from southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. I felt guilty about delaying my morning walk with Cowboy but I had gone back to sleep after my usual dawn awakening, at least with sunrise’s alignment this time of year. The June 11 temperature was already over 80 degrees and headed for the mid-90s.
Then @the_maddawg tweeted a photo of what appeared to be smoke from a new fire start in the mountains east of Santa Fe. I grabbed my binoculars and iPhone and went outside to look northeast. I saw this in the direction of Santa Fe:
About an hour later the Santa Fe National Forest posted the photo below with this caption: “New fire start on the Santa Fe NF – in the Sangres. View from SFNF HQ on Highway 14. Name: Rincon Fire. Resources headed there now to assess. More info to come.”
Other tweeters I follow were retweeting this drought in the West chart today from the New York Times. That’s early June 2021 in the upper left and early June 2000 in the lower right:
While remembering its somewhat tumultuous water rights background, I had been marveling at the excellence of the Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District’s website, including its history section: https://www.eawsd.org/eawsd-history.
Eldorado, south of the city of Santa Fe, and Placitas, in Sandoval County not far south of Eldorado, both have populations of around 5,000 people (Placitas area population 2019: 4,686. Eldorado area population 2019: 5,823). Both areas are dependent on wells for water, though Placitas (with some springs and an acequia system still involved) is a more complicated area historically, politically and topographically, while Eldorado has unified itself for water purposes under a single water and sanitation district.
Comparisons and ambitions might be impossible beyond that. Sandoval County had this to say about Placitas in its 2009 Placitas Area Plan:
“Over time, numerous solutions to the water issues in Placitas have been developed. In the territorial and colonial periods, surface water from springs and streams was largely the solution of choice. Over time, additional demands were met through the development of wells. Today, the increasing populations have caused a move toward systems using shared wells to meet the water needs of the area. While there are still individual domestic wells, the needs of water resource management are driving away from that option as the preferred method.
“There are about 14 area water systems plus Las Acequias de Placitas. Further, there are numerous old, single lot domestic wells, shared wells, springs and streams in the area used as water sources in the community. As such, there is not a simple definition of the water situation from a demand point of view any more than there is an easy way to characterize the supply side of the equation. Given continuing growth of the area and a desire to maximize the utility of the available water and encourage conservation practices, the County will encourage shared wells and community water systems.”
So, about 14 community water systems in the Placitas area … apparently not counting the mini or shared well systems that have supported much new development. Eldorado as a whole reportedly has 12 wells and six storage tanks.
To avoid panic about Placitas area water supply in general, I will repeat this old saw about our area.:
“The conclusions of the study are that water availability in the Placitas area varies. There are sections where water is relatively abundant, areas where water availability is challenged, and areas between these extremes. In Placitas, like most areas, water is greatly influenced by geology. Local structure is complex; it is characterized by faulting associated with the Rio Grande Rift zone.” From Placitas Area Plan, Sandoval County, 2009.
The Eldorado website reports this about the Eldorado water supply:
“A second hydrology study and groundwater model conducted by Glorieta Geoscience, Inc. in 2007 reassessed the situation and determined that EAWSD has a 100-year supply of groundwater, assuming no increase in water production (and it has actually decreased by over 18% since 2007). However, the water supply issue must be monitored closely. Drought conditions over the past 5 years appear to have reduced water production in a number of wells. The rate of recharge of the aquifers is critical to the sustainability of water production.”
As I asked questions this morning — mostly of myself but reaching out on Twitter to experts as well — I remembered to look in the index of Laura Paskus’s book about climate change in New Mexico, At the Precipice, UNM Press 2020.
And I just craned my neck from home office desk chair in Placitas to look northeast at the smoke farther northeast of Santa Fe. I see a few cumulus clouds building over the fire area. I hope there is hope.