Protecting Our Green Infrastructure in the Southwest

Sourced from the Santa Fe New Mexican

World Water Day (March 22) and National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 10-16) lead me, a hydrologist by training, to reflect on the importance of our green infrastructure for ensuring life in the Southwest. Without water, life would be impossible.

In the Southwest, the Earth provides us with just enough of this valuable natural resource through its rich green infrastructure of forests, streams and riparian areas. Household and other water supplies are also drawn from groundwater in saturation zones at various depths below the surface, which also keeps perennial streams flowing during periods without precipitation. The green infrastructure captures, stores and releases water delivered to our cities through the physical infrastructure of dams, canals and pipelines that we’ve built in support of our daily lives.

Many of the headwaters of our streams and the recharge areas of aquifers are found on our national forests, and so the Forest Service has a critical role in protecting and maintaining the resiliency and integrity of the water resources associated with those lands. Our national forests in Arizona, New Mexico and southern Colorado are the dominant water-yielding portion of this landscape, serving the population centers of Phoenix, Flagstaff, Ariz., Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Life here would be impossible without water, which is vital for supporting our ecosystems, creating jobs and supporting economic, social and human development. Adequate supplies of high-quality groundwater from recharged aquifers are critical to our quality of life and to our water security as surface flows fluctuate.

The arid Southwest is on the spear tip for experiencing the effects of climate change, with the vulnerability of our water supplies and the likelihood of drought, wildfire and flooding from infrequent but intense post-fire rainfall events increasing. The growing uncertainty of our water supplies is highlighted by ongoing litigation over the delivery of water from New Mexico to Texas on the Rio Grande, as well as by the interstate Drought Contingency Plan to deal with the urgent impact of water delivery shortfalls from the over-appropriated Colorado River.

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