Capitalism is making New Mexico’s water disappear

Over the past few years, underground aquifers, wells, rivers and streams have been drying up at alarming rates all across New Mexico and the Western United States. 

New Mexico is located within a semi-arid or semi-desert climate, where dry spells are a natural part of weather variability. However, the average temperature has risen by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, a long-term trend caused by capitalism-fueled climate change. This is having an adverse effect on the monsoon cycle and dry seasons in the region. With rising temperatures, dry seasons are becoming longer and more frequent while wet seasons are shorter and less impactful. The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, foundational to water in the West, is decreasing in mass, and the snow season has decreased steadily in the past 30 years. Combined with capitalist mismanagement of natural resources, local water resources are set to disappear within this century, with many disappearing as soon as the next decade.

Aquifers, wells and rivers are drying up 

A 2017 report by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources found the projected usable lifetime of the High Plains Aquifer (also known as the Oglala Aquifer or HPA) in central-eastern New Mexico is alarmingly short — less than 10 years in many areas. The HPA is the only source of water in certain counties. Water use has already outpaced replenishment of the aquifer thanks to large scale, water-intensive capitalist farming practices and meat production (“ranching”). The effects of climate change are now making a bad situation exponentially worse. 

Communities all over the rural East Mountains are reporting problems with their groundwater resources. Residents in small towns like Placitas, Tijeras, Edgewood, Sandia Crest and Sedillo are seeing increasing instances of local groundwater wells drying up, with residents forced to purchase and/or haul water or move elsewhere. According to the Bernalillo County Water Level Monitoring Project, groundwater levels in the East Mountains decreased by an average of 1.8 feet per year from 2010-2017. 

Across New Mexico’s arid southeast, where residents depend entirely on groundwater, water scarcity is affecting daily life. Many locals have detailed situations where they turned on their faucets and water either dribbled out or nothing came out at all. 

Another vital source of water, the Rio Grande, has increasingly had a lessened flow or even run dry in areas. These patterns worry environmental scientists as they steadily become the new norm. The Rio Grande is one of the principal rivers, along with the Colorado River, in the Southwest. Its waters sustain farms and cities across the region. Six million people in the US and Mexico depend on water from the Rio Grande and 40 million depend on the Colorado River in the US alone

In 2001 and 2002, the Rio Grande dried up before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, the river has run dry far further north at unprecedented times of the year. In April 2018, just 70 miles south of Albuquerque, the river experienced a 20-mile dry stretch, a startling event for many as summer had not yet begun. By June of this year, the water that ran through Albuquerque was 95 percent storage water, released from a reservoir in order to maintain irrigation for farmers and support the ecosystem. If this decision had not been made by water managers, the river would have been dry in Albuquerque throughout the late summer months and even fall, something that has never been seen in this area of the state. 

Environmental scientists predict that New Mexicans will experience an acute water emergency as soon as next year. 

Capitalism is driving the water crisis

In the Southwest, the water-crisis is actually a crisis of capitalist production. Large-scale agricultural and ranching capitalists suck huge amounts of already scarce water out of existence producing cash crops and obscene amounts of beef for a market flooded with food. Now, capitalism’s climate catastrophe is putting the pedal to the metal, depleting water at a much faster pace than ever before. 

The management and use of water in the Southwest has always required a delicate balance. Pre-capitalist Indigenous societies used irrigation farming on collectively owned land and innovated and developed different methods of water use to support themselves for centuries. Hispanics and Mexicans built water systems that flowed with natural waterways to support local farming communities on communal land for the community’s benefit. 

With U.S. conquest came the imposition of the capitalist mode of production, which has proven unable to sustainably husband water, land, and other resources. These delicate natural reserves became inputs for capitalist farming and industry, exploited and degraded all in the service of never-ending wealth accumulation. 

While the bulk of New Mexico’s water is diverted for capitalist agriculture, a small but growing portion is being used for oil and gas drilling. Since the onlining of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) helped launch the latest carbon-based energy boom, including in the Southwest, energy companies have been on the hunt for the water needed to retrieve the oil. These multinational megacorporations thirstily buy up as much of New Mexico’s fresh water as they can. This will create a grim feedback loop where Big Oil uses scarce water resources for drilling, unlocking vast amounts of carbon, releasing it into the sky and raising temperatures to a point where water sources may go extinct. 

Is the capitalist political establishment in New Mexico meeting this life-or-death crisis with a resolve and urgency of equal scale? Well, considering that in 2016 the five biggest water users in New Mexico’s largest metro area were golf courses, it appears they are not taking the steps that New Mexicans, and the global climate, need. 

The current system has no solutions

The water crisis caused by capitalism cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism. We need an entirely new system. The economy needs to be organized in a way that is based on common ownership and that prioritizes environmental health and the people’s well-being over profits. A socialist economy would plan the usage of water and invest in all technology and infrastructure needed to preserve this resource. Capitalism is an unsustainable global system that must be replaced with socialism.

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