U.S. Water News Online
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has formed a Drought and Emergency Assistance Task Force to help New Mexico residents affected by the prolonged drought in the Southwest.
The South Plains is enduring its driest four months since 1965, with only 0.45 inches of rain since January. The area normally receives 2.62 inches of rain by mid-April.
Although reservoir storage is still good in New Mexico, said Sen. Pete Domenici, N.M., if present conditions continue, water supplies will deplete rapidly. Domenici is urging state officials to collaborate with federal government agencies -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, and Fish and Wildlife Service -- in providing drought relief.
Santa Fe County has restricted water use in the area south of Santa Fe. A water emergency has been declared in Eldorado where a moratorium on applications for housing and commercial projects is in effect for the area served by Eldorado utilities. The city has imposed a $300 fine for washing cars (non-commercially), expanding landscape lawns or gardens, or filling private swimming pools.
In Lubbock Texas, even with no end to the drought in sight, city officials are not planning to increase water rates. However, the average citizen is likely to use more water, and therefore see his bill increase. Bruce Blalack, superintendent for utilities, said the city should have enough water to make it through the summer without implementing a conservation plan.
But in San Antonio, where a stage II drought alert is already in effect, the city council is considering further water restrictions which would take effect when the Edwards Aquifer drops to 640 feet above sea level, signalling the start of a stage III drought alert. This, say city officials, could happen quite soon. As of mid-May the Edwards Aquifer stood at 647.3 feet.
Further water restrictions would focus primarily on outdoor water use -- watering lawns, washing cars or sidewalks, or running decorative outdoor fountains that do not recycle. Right now residents can water lawns twice a week. If a stage III drought is declared, residents will only be able to water lawns once every five days.
According to Blair Warren, assistant general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, the biggest problem is the lack of a "cohesive plan" to regulate pumping from the aquifer.
In Corpus Christi, the cities' reservoirs are at 35 percent capacity. A ban on lawn watering on the weekends is already in place, with a designated-days watering plan in effect during the week. If the reservoirs shrink to 11 percent capacity, further conservation measures will go into effect, including rationing water for residents, banning use of water for swimming pools, and serving water in restaurant's only on request.
Austin has been in a stage II drought alert since mid-April, which requires a 20 percent reduction in groundwater use, including public water supplies (small municipalities), commercial and industrial water use, and irrigation for both agricultural and urban landscapes.
Meanwhile, Gov. George W. Bush has been urging Mexico to honor its water-sharing agreement with the U.S. The agreement is now threatened, he said, by Mexican farmers who are pumping from the Rio Grande for irrigation. Texas Secretary of State Tony Garza has written to Mexican officials about the matter, telling them that farmers' continued pumping could kill the Texas/Mexican water sharing pact.
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