Rio Grande’s Challenges: Drying stretches and wastewater clean-up

The Rio Grande near Albuquerque
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September 12, 2023 — The condition of the Rio Grande has faced its share of challenges over the years. In recent news, parts of the river are drying up and an agreement has been reached over the cleanup of a sewage spill into the river.

Albuquerque’s Depleting River.

For two consecutive years, the Rio Grande, near Albuquerque, is on the brink of drying out. This concerning development, as noted by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and reported by Wildlife Guardians to the Albuquerque JournalOpens in a new tab., marks the second time in four decades such an event has occurred. While there remains a slight flow of water in the Albuquerque section, it is quickly depleting due to limited rainfall and ongoing demands from irrigation channels. Historically, the Rio Grande flowed continuously throughout the year. Today it presents as fragmented stretches of water. Already, around 30 miles of the San Acacia Reach and nearly 4 miles of the Isleta Reach south of Albuquerque resemble a barren, sandy landscape instead of a flowing river.

Cleanup of Wastewater Spill.

Following the discharge of approximately 1.25 billion gallons of wastewater into the Rio Grande from August 2021 to January 2022, El Paso Water faced potential fines of about $2 million. The spillage resulted from several ruptures in major pipelines located in West El Paso, and the wastewater made its way into New Mexico near Sunland Park.  Following a lawsuit by New Mexico, the court ordered that Texas retain jurisdiction.  El Paso Water presented its case to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which found that the utility had invested about $7 million in Rio Grande clean-up initiativesOpens in a new tab.. As a result of their cooperation and the considerable clean-up investment, the $2 million fine was offset by the $7 million, avoiding a financial burden shifted to El Paso Water’s ratepayers.


View of the Rio Grande Valley and the Rio Grande in AlbuquerqueOpens in a new tab. — from the old University of Albuquerque campus, in New Mexico.  John Phelan, January 2012, via Wikimedia Commons.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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