Rio Grande Runs Dry in Albuquerque

The river is an important water source for central New Mexico, and it’s also home to the endangered silvery minnow

A river splits around a sand bar
The Rio Grande in central New Mexico AP Photo / Susan Montoya Bryan

After years of drought in the Southwest, a stretch of the Rio Grande once flowing through Albuquerque has run dry for the first time in 40 years. Officials warn that the conditions will likely get worse in the upcoming days. 

“Most folks in Albuquerque who have lived here have grown up always seeing the river have water,” Jason Casuga, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, tells the Washington Post’s Meryl Kornfield. “So it would be a real big surprise to wake up and go outside and look at the river and realize, hey there’s no water.”

As of last Tuesday, 85 percent of New Mexico was under severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. One hundred percent of Bernalillo County—where Albuquerque is located—was experiencing severe drought conditions. 

The water level has gotten so low that people can walk across the river bed, and those fishing along the bank have abandoned their poles to scoop fish up with their hands from the remaining puddles, reports Brett Luna for KOB 4

The 100-mile stretch of river running through the city supplies water to agricultural land in the area and is home to the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, per the Post. Officials have started collecting minnows stranded by the river’s low or nonexistent flow. 

“This is almost the sole source of water in the central part of New Mexico and we’re not trying to save it just for the fish,” Andy Dean, a federal biologist, tells Susan Montoya Bryan from the Associated Press. “It’s our job as the Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent the extinction of this animal, but this water is also for everybody in the valley. We’re trying to save it for everybody and if the fish is that piece that helps us do that, then that’s what we have to use." 

Southern portions of the Rio Grande periodically run dry, per the Post, but the last time water levels looked like this along this stretch was in 1983, Casuga tells the newspaper. 

The drought in the Southwest has also caused water levels in critical reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell to drop. 

“The reality is the drying temps are going to stick around, the reduced precipitation is going to stick around so we are going to have to adjust to this new reality,” Casuga tells KOB 4’s Spencer Schacht. 

The state’s options are running short, per the Post; it owes water to Texas as part of a water-sharing agreement, and upstream reserves are also running low because of a lack of rain and weak snowpack. 

“If I can end on anything, I end with, ‘if you’re a praying sort of person, pray for rain,” Casuga tells KOB 4.