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City in New Mexico Only Has 50 Days of Water Remaining, Declares State of Emergency

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 1, 2022
Las Vegas, New Mexico only has 50 days of water remaining after a wildfire destroyed the watershed.
A gauge measures water levels on the Rio Nambe amid extreme drought conditions on June 3, 2022 near Nambe, New Mexico. The City of Las Vegas, home to 13,000 people, only has 50 days of water in reserves after its watershed became contaminated by the massive wildfires that the Forest Service started in April. (Image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The city of Las Vegas in New Mexico has declared a State of Emergency after ash and debris from a massive, raging wildfire has contaminated the watershed after being followed by record rainfall. 

Las Vegas, a small town of 13,000 people, declared that it only has 50 days of water stored and available for use in a July 28 Declaration of Emergency signed by Mayor Louie Trujillo.

Local news outlet KOAT reported on July 29that the city has initiated “Stage 6” water rationing, which includes measures that prohibit restaurants from serving water to customers.

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The source of the calamity appears to be a massive wildfire that has been burning in New Mexico since April after the Forest Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lit what was supposed to be a controlled burn in 1.5 acres of the Hermits Peak region on April 6.

The fire quickly spread out of control.

By April 7, the DOA notified the public the fire had already consumed 150 acres. By April 13, high winds had fanned the flames to almost 7,000 acres.

Mayor Trujillo’s Declaration stated that the fire had scorched the watershed of the Gallinas River, which is Las Vegas’s primary source of water.

Because of the damage to the nearby terrain, now, every time it rains, ash, fire debris, trees, and rocks are washed into the river, Trujillo stated.

The Declaration added that the city’s water treatment facility is not equipped to filter the large amounts of turbidity and ashes flowing through its system.

On July 29, New Mexico Governor Michelle Grisham also declared a statewide State of Emergency for Las Vegas, allocating $2.25 million in emergency funding, intended to help Las Vegas “establish and operate a temporary pre-treatment system” for the purposes of importing water from Lake Storie.

August 1 reporting by ABC revealed that Mayor Trujillo is incensed with the federal government after the crisis hit the town.

“The government is 100% responsible for this disaster and we intend to hold them accountable, to pay for every expense and discomfort that the citizens are suffering right now, even if it includes legal recourse,” he told the outlet.

The Mayor lamented, “We’ve had rain almost every single day in the area of the burn scar. We haven’t had a fruitful monsoon season in years and this is the year that we’re getting it and we can’t use any of that water for our purposes.”

The outlet also reported that Governor Grisham had pointed a finger at the Feds, albeit more diplomatically, “The destruction that continues to befall New Mexico communities affected by the U.S. Forest Service planned burns from earlier this year is unfathomable,” she stated.

ABC reported that Joe Biden visited the area in June, where Trujillo met with him. “We are going to insist that they continue to assist our residents with what we need,” the Mayor stated.

The Forest Service did not respond to ABC’s request for comment.

Associated Press reported on August 1 that New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy had lifted fire restrictions in some areas as a result of the heavy rains.

Despite the fire being directly and openly caused by the federal government, McCarthy decided to occupy the carbon-based climate change narrative in public messaging.

“New Mexicans are living through historic climate change that is becoming our new normal,” she said in a statement.

The flooding has been arguably more of a problem for citizens than the fires themselves.

August 1 reporting by Santa Fe New Mexican quoted Isidro Archuleta, a 58-year-old local, as stating, “My house is taking water. The roads are completely gone. Me and my wife are sick — we’re on oxygen. It’s just getting worse and worse by the day.”

“There’s like waterfalls coming down the ridges y todo, just pounding us, pounding us…I’ve never seen so much water in my life up here, and there’s nothing to hold the water back. There’s nothing,” he added.

His wife Jennifer told the outlet that the couple’s 11 llamas and other animals were “living on ash.”

Isidro said the situation was dire enough that the couple was rescued via all-terrain vehicle during the afternoon of July 29.

When Isidro called local 911 dispatch for help, he states he was told by the dispatcher, “You people knew what you were getting into.”

Isidro cursed the woman in Spanish in response, the outlet stated.