Julia Bernal (Sandia, Taos and Yuchi-Creek Nations of Oklahoma) in Sandoval County in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. “It’s like this concept of landback. Once you get the land back, what are you going to do with it after? It’s the same thing. If we get the water back, what are we gonna do with it after?
Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”
The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.
When Julie Badonie was growing up in the small Navajo community of Tohatchi in the 1940s, her father drove a horse-drawn wagon early each morning to a nearby spring. There, he filled wooden barrels with water the family would use that day to drink, cook, and wash.
Badonie, the youngest of seven children, including brothers who fought in World War II and the Korean War, or one of her siblings would go along. She remembers it as fun. At home, a hose siphoned the water into buckets to bring into the house. Badonie left for boarding school in kindergarten, first just a few miles across town, then several days’ travel away in Crownpoint, where an older sister worked as a cook, and eventually, all the way to Albuquerque for high school.
For a while, Chee Smith Jr. thought he was going to have to send his father to die among strangers. His family lives at Whitehorse Lake, a Navajo chapter where, until a few years ago, roughly 550 of 700 residents had no running water in their homes, including Smith’s. As Smith’s father aged and his health worsened, it became harder and harder for him to live at home. “We had to haul water from the chapterhouse or the watering points every day for just basic things — for cooking, for laundry, for stuff like that, and also for our livestock,” Smith said. “It takes a big toll.
The kids called the heaps of waste rock from a shuttered mine “the moon,” and the bare mounds of yellow mill tailings “Egypt.”
“We played there. We loved it,” recalled San Miguel County Commissioner Janice Varela. “We didn’t know.”
Growing up on the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, she said, they lived with a world of mountains, rivers, and canyons at their disposal. That world just happened to include the geologic oddities of an old lead and zinc mine, mill buildings and tailings piles. People would load up the back of a pickup truck and haul the waste rock away for use around their homes, including Varela’s ex-husband, who applied it to their driveway.
Water was the focus at the Roundhouse during American Indian Day, bringing together activists and lawmakers, on Friday. The day’s theme–”No to the Dakota Access Pipeline”–signified a greater interest in water rights, communal support, and a growing enthusiasm for environmental issues among Indigenous New Mexicans. Attendees declared their support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s opposition to a proposed oil pipeline route in North Dakota, and affirmed the importance of clean water for Indigenous people everywhere. “Standing Rock galvanized people from all over, not just Indians, but native, non-native and people from around the world that came together around an issue of water. I think we’re going to see more of that,” Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, said.
On the latest episode of Blue Corn Live, a new podcast exploring food in New Mexico, farmers from the Albuquerque area talk about some of the challenges they face, including when it comes to climate change.
Los Alamos scientists are looking at how climate-driven impacts such as drought, wildfire, and insect outbreaks will affect ecosystems and regional water supplies. Halfway through a three-year, $3 million project, the team’s research already shows that climate-driven disturbances could reduce annual flows in parts of the Colorado River Basin by 20 percent.
People across the state and beyond our boundaries are studying everything from impacts on wildlife species to dropping aquifer levels. But there’s no one clearinghouse for all this information. This map is a step toward trying to collect that information – and presenting it to the public in a way that’s easy-to-use and relevant to peoples’ communities.
In her State of the State, Gov. Martinez called for developing “every kind of energy we can produce in New Mexico.” But a closer look at the administration’s recent energy plan reveals that the state still lacks a long-term plan for New Mexico’s economic future, even as the climate warms, energy prices drop, and a new era of federal regulations dawns.