The sun rises over the quaint town of Cuatro Cienegas. Until three decades ago the 215-year-old farming community of Cuatro Ciénegas was a farm and business hub set amid a thriving oasis where vineyards and orchards of pomegranate, walnuts, and peaches were irrigated with water drawn from clear, spring-fed streams and pools.
Day 6 of our on-going article excerpts. Check out the blog again tomorrow for more, or head straight to our website for the remainder of the article.
Water Scarcity Could Deter Energy Developers From Crossing Border Into Northern Mexico
by Keith Schneider
Competition For Water Leads To Deficit
The source of Cuatro Ciénegas’ water deficit, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, is groundwater irrigation from grain farms in Ocampo, about 50 kilometers north (31 miles), and from alfalfa and dairy production in the south Hundido Valley, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest.
Both farm areas lie at elevations above Cuatro Ciénegas, explained Brad Wolaver, a research associate with the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences. Farmers irrigate with wells drilled into aquifers recharged from rainfall from nearby mountains. But those same higher ground aquifers also are connected to the network of springs that supply Cuatros Ciénegas, which are on the valley floor.
So much water is being pumped in the two farm regions to irrigate crops and care for livestock that not early enough is left to supply the pools and marshes. With every passing year, the desert claims more land, more ponds, more streams that used to be wet.
“One major stream that flowed from the Ocampo-Calaveras Valley to the north ceased flow,” said Wolaver. “There are dozens of springs that still flow, but in the long term, may see reduced flows if heavy groundwater pumping continues in the surrounding valleys.
“What’s happening is a lesson in what occurs when a finite supply of water needed by everyone is used without enough concern about limits,” Wolaver added in an interview.
It’s entirely possible, maybe even probable without a clear and enforceable plan for water use, that the same circumstance could occur on a much larger scale in cities and farm areas in close proximity to Coahuila’s oil and gas fields.
“Water supply is an urgent concern throughout that entire region,” said Mark Briggs, a restoration ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund, based in Tucson. “Populations are growing on both sides of the Rio Grande. Water supplies in the Rio Grande Basin are over-allocated. Cities are reaching across groundwater basins to supply themselves with water. Climate change is a factor in intensifying drought cycles. Add major energy development and its water needs. You have to wonder where all this is going. “
To some extent, water supply is part of the government discussion about energy development in Coahuila. Conagua authorities last year declared that new permits for the state’s 28 existing aquifers would not be available for developers of shale oil and gas wells. Nor is water available for fracking from the Rio Grande River, which is over-allocated and regulated by various transboundary commissions.