El Paso was “drought-proof.” Climate change is pushing its limits.

While farmers rely on the Rio Grande for irrigation, much of the water that El Paso residents drink actually comes from deep underground aquifers. These critical water sources are also at risk.

In 1979, the Texas Water Development Board estimated that El Paso would run out of groundwater by 2031. At that time, each resident used, on average, more than 200 gallons of water per day. Much of this water was drawn from the city’s two aquifers – Huco Bolson to the east and Masila Bolson to the west.

For the next two decades, Water Utility launched a campaign encouraging residents to use less water, among other things, with local plants instead of their lawns. Today, the average water consumption is 134 gallons per person per day. It still exceeds the U.S. national average of 82 gallons but is less than used in some other places in the country with similarly dry climates, such as Arizona (145 gallons) and Utah (169 gallons).

As a result, the aquifer is in better condition – to some extent. “The water level is falling, but it’s not falling like a rock,” says Scott Rainert, resource manager at El Paso Water. Still, more water is coming out of the aquifer than going into it.

El Paso Water pumps 40,000 and 50,000 acre-feet of water annually from Huco Bolson and replaces approximately 5,000 acre-feet of water annually. (One acre-foot is an incredible unit of measurement used by water utilities – enough water to cover an acre of land, or just half a soccer field, with one foot of water.) There are also some natural recharges from other groundwater and river, but That’s not enough to keep pumping.

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