September 15, 2016

Albuquerque Water Rights

We began our 2016 Land Art of the American West journey with a sneak=peak into backyard water works of Albuquerque. Flowing from the Sandia Mountains to the east and northern waters from the Rio Grande highlands Albuquerque water comes from many complex and convoluted ecologic, infrastructural, and political relationships. Across land, through pipes, and among the living city.

Although Albuquerque is within the Rio Grande Watershed the Colorado River also manages to jump the continental divide and make it via a series of trans-basin human-made and natural water flows from the San Juan to the Chama and into Albuquerque where it becomes one with the Rio Grande. 70% of metropolitan water comes from the river and 30% is maintained through a series of aquifer wells.

How do you know one water from the rest? Imagine, use and abuse and through the mind numbing figure of statistical numeric algebraic equations. Agua es Vida.

On top of Turtle Mountain (Sandia) looking out across Albuquerque


Our travels across Albuquerque water began at Turtle Mountain (Sandia) up in the clouds…or nearly so to make our greetings to the rain formers, the trees and the clouds. We then had a look over the expanse of metropolitan Albuquerque and visualize the hydro-rumblings across the steep scrubland. From mountain washes the water then meets a blockade of suburban housing developments with mostly hardscape of sidewalks, driveways, and roads. Water consolidates and picks up energy. Flows. All the way to the river. There is no encouraged water infiltration for Albuquerque. The surface water belongs to someone else downstream based on the history of prior appropriation. Who owns Water Rights?

The old acequia tree line in Mountain View among numerous brownfield and Superfund sites.



AMAFCA (Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority – Protecting Life and Property since 1963) Since 1963 AMAFCA has installed a series of flood control infrastructure to move water across the city. As monumental earthworks/waterworks these act as giant curbs, dams, chutes, channels diverting water to keep the city from going under. Some structures also house parks for public recreation.

After exploring Albuquerque surface water we traveled to the north end of Rio Grande to meet up with Scott Salvas and the Albuquerque Water Utility where we would look at the river flow coming in from the San Juan/Chama Diversion and discuss metropolitan use. This entailed two parts, one looking at the actual diversion of water from the river and secondly taking a tour of the Drinking Water Treatment Plant where all river water is filtered, treated, and served.

The next day we went to the outflows for Albuquerque water. Waste. About 95% of all waste is water. 5% is solid. The Southside Albuquerque Waste Water Treatment plant processes between 50 – 60 million gallons of waste water every 22 hours. This comes from everything flushed down the sewers from domestic users, showers, toilets, sinks, etc. All household water waste. Also businesses can petition for use after they have proved their waste is clean. The process involves filtration, bacterial processing, cleaning up via the food chain, and finally sterilization. The end result gets dumped back into the Rio Grande as the third largest tributary in the upper reaches of the river. A small portion serves parks and golf courses on the south side of Albuquerque. There is discussion about someday implementing a re-flow from toilet to tap. For all downstream users this is already a fact.

Albuquerque Waste Water diversion into the Rio Grande



Right outside the gates of the Albuquerque Waste Water Treatment Plant is the Mountain View Community, historically known as part of the Atrisco Land Grant. It is a well known fact that for over the last 50 + years this southside community has been the dumping grounds of Albuquerque and the region. And not just from toilet runoff.

We met up with Richard Moore, Lauro Silva, and Amzie Yoder at the new Los Jardines Community Garden which serves to unite Mountain View residents in common-unity. Clean food, water, land, and air is not just symbolized in this garden, it is made real. During our meeting Lauro pointed out that the name “Atrisco” is actually a corrupted form of Atlixco, a Nahuatl word meaning “of the water” and named by the Mexican Indians who originally settled here.

During our meeting, Richard discussed environmental justice in marginalized communities and the political and social processes that seek to reframe the problems to create relevant community based solutions. We also drove through Mountain View as Lauro pointed out multiple Superfund sites, brownfields, trash dumps, contaminated water sources, jet fuel spills, industrial hazards, and talked about the trauma of being run over by the waste and want of others.

A drywall mountain of debris in Mountain View



Who suffers from our actions?
Who does this effect?
Who’s rights?
Water Rights. Human Rights. The Rights of Nature.

Our last stop was a visit to Valle de Oro, National Wildlife Refuge, which sits in the middle of Mountain View. It is one of just a handful of urban refuges in the country. Teresa Skiba met with us and talked about the master design for the refuge. Its plan is to serve not only wildlife, but also people. With ever-greater urbanization of populations, people are becoming less connected with nature. The urban refuge priority is to provide a space where people can experience the environment first hand and learn about nature. Where they can cultivate relationships and empathy with the more than human.

As an old farm, the refuge sits on 500 acres of water rights, keeping these permanently connected to the land and the surrounding community.

Below are images from this two-day tour flowing through the water of Albuquerque.

San Juan/Chama Diversion on the Rio Grande
San Juan/Chama Diversion on the Rio Grande



Albuquerque Water Authority Drinking Water Treatment Plant

Albuquerque Water Authority Drinking Water Treatment Plant




Albuquerque Water Authority command station

Albuquerque Southside Waste Water Treatment Plant

Albuquerque Southside Waste Water Treatment Plant

Inlet for treated Albuquerque Waste Water in the Rio Grande








Los Jardines Community Garden tour with Amzie Yoder in Mountain View

Los Jardines Community Garden in Mountain View community

Industrial waste and brownfields in the Mountain View community

Industrial waste and brownfields in the Mountain View community

Tank farms in the Mountain View community

Industrial waste and brownfields in the Mountain View community

Valle de Oro master plan with Teresa Skiba











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