History of water use in the greater Albuquerque area
Thomas E. Kelly


The greater Albuquerque, New Mexico area is one of the oldest continuously occupied areas in the country. The early settlers of Albuquerque, founded in 1706, dug shallow wells in unconsolidated river alluvium in order to obtain a water supply more dependable than the Rio Grande, which periodically flooded or was very low and muddy. Subsequently, the municipal water system evolved from relatively shallow dug wells to wells drilled to depths of about 550 m (1,800 ft).

Early growth of the city was slow. Albuquerque had a population of only about 15,000 people in 1920. There were approximately 34,000 in the Albuquerque area when the first hydrologic evaluation of this region was made in 1936. It has been estimated that there were fewer than 50,000 residents at the end of World War II, but subsequent growth has been significant. The metropolitan area had a population of 331,767 in 1980, and projections by Bonem and others (1977) for the year 2000 show population estimates of 548,300 to 813,500.
The water resources of the Rio Grande Valley were first studied by Lee (1907), but the first comprehensive evaluation was conducted by the National Resources Committee for the purpose of regional planning of the Rio Grande basin (Theis, 1938). Both of these early studies emphasized the availability of water in the inner valley which, at that time, was the only area of development.
Bjorklund and Maxwell (1961) made the first thorough ground-water study of the Albuquerque area; Reeder and others (1967) presented a quantitative study which emphasized long-range projections for the same area. Additional municipal water-supply data were collected by Dinwiddie and others (1966); the fresh- and saline-water resources of the area were described by Kelly (1974). Lambert (1968), Kelley and Northrop (1975), and Kelley (1977) conducted detailed studies of the geology in the vicinity of Albuquerque. This paper is based on a comprehensive study made by Geohydrology Associates, Inc. as part of a report prepared by the Corps of Engineers (1979).


  1. Kelly, Thomas E., 1982, History of water use in the greater Albuquerque area, in: Albuquerque Country II, Grambling, J. A.; Wells, S. G., New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook, 33rd Field Conference, pp. 351-355.

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