Living with water insecurity is a reality to which much of the country is adjusting. Climate change and extended periods of drought lead many to turn to conservation and water projects to provide solutions to the problem. Understanding the data of a water system is key to planning long-term—knowing how much water you have and how much you use is essential. Some states have a better grasp of that data than others. New Mexico is a state that is “data-challenged” as it has no central database for water measurements, does little to track the flow of water in its rivers and aquifers, and does not have a state agency that knows how much water is used statewide. This presents overwhelming obstacles toward planning. How do you know when your supply is running short or is gone? How do you plan if you have no data?
New Mexico’s water primarily comes from precipitation, which either replenishes groundwater or runs off into rivers and streams. Extreme drought conditions and climate change have decreased precipitation levels over the last decade and increased the evaporation rate of rain and snow resulting in less groundwater and less aquifer recharge. For small towns that often have limited water infrastructure and limited water sources, understanding water levels is critical. In 2014, Magdelena, New Mexico’s only functional well went dry when water levels dropped below the reach of the pump. Some residents were without water for a week, but the anxiety inspired by the possibility of the well going permanently dry made an indelible impression on the entire community. Since then, the town received a grant for infrastructure improvements; however, continued apprehension has driven them to monitor the wells daily, build new water tanks and launch conservation efforts.
While managing the crisis, the importance of having data was obvious. The city looked to Stacy Timmons, associate director of hydrogeology programs at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology, for guidance, but before decisions could be made as to the best path forward, months were spent gathering the necessary data, too much time given the sense of urgency to resolve the issue quickly.
In 2019, the state passed the Water Data Act requiring water agencies to “identify, share and integrate key water data” to aid water management and planning, but only $100,000 was appropriated, and the labor required to satisfy the goals of the act will be costly. As water resources become stressed and exhausted, data will become vital for future planning, helping guide decision making regarding water use practices like flood irrigation and regulations for industries such as fracking and cannabis farming which are notorious for water consumption and keeping small towns from becoming extinct.
 “About Us.” New Mexico Water Data, 21 Oct. 2021, newmexicowaterdata.org/about/.