There is a small farming town about 30 miles south of Albuquerque called Tomé. I was raised there. My house sits on dry land, just a few feet away from the easternmost ditch that carries water from the Rio Grande. The land that I live on is very different than the land west of the ditch.
Looking east from my house, the ground is brown. There are miles of hills filled with yucca and sand dunes where I have spent my summers four wheeling. Looking to the west, however, the ground is green, rich with alfalfa.
For most of my life, we have tried to grow plants on our land—grass, trees, and flowers—with no success until recent years. The soil is too dry, and grass will not grow unless we flood the yard throughout the summer.
I understand the sacredness of water, and have grown up with farmers who are careful with the water that they use. There is always a feeling of uneasiness in our community when water overflows onto the road because a water channel was left open too long. Flooding is never good. It is a waste of water.
Over the last few years, plots of farmland have been sold to housing development projects. Farmland is starting to diminish and block-style, congested neighborhoods are taking its place.
It makes me wonder about the impact of such developments on our ecosystem. As I drive along the ditch bank, north of the Tomé Hill, I see plots of fertile farmland filled with rows of water systems awaiting the building of houses. Irrigation water overflowing onto the road does not seem so bad anymore.
New Mexicans are used to water shortages. “If you look at a 2,000-year snapshot of rainfall and snowpack in New Mexico, drought is more the norm than an anomaly.” There is a thin passage of water that snakes through our state, and the rich bosque occupies a small area on either side of the Rio Grande. Our lakes, smaller rivers and streams are drying up. And although we are blessed to have our acequias flowing with water each year, the use of the water is delicately planned based on an intimate knowledge of the land. We do not have water to spare.
The recently proposed Santolina Master Plan, which would provide residence for over 90,000 people in 38,000 new homes, parks and schools would use nearly 20 million gallons of water per day. This amount of water is difficult for me to comprehend, but it’s interesting to bring these numbers back home. My family refuses to clear the stickers and plant grass for the sake of saving water, yet these housing developments are making plans to suck New Mexico dry.
My hope is that, years from now, when my children drive through Tomé, they will curve through roads with lush farmlands that release the heavenly scent of alfalfa into the air, so that they too can fall in love with the land and the water.