By Nona Shipman, One World One Water Center MSU Denver
“Whatever happened to Santa Rosa, New Mexico?” In 100 years, questioning the existence of an entire town in New Mexico may not be that shocking. New Mexico, like Colorado, struggles with drought and water supply. So how is it that the small town of Santa Rosa is so “water rich” it is almost drowning? In October 2013, I was fortunate enough to be invited on an MSU Denver school trip to New Mexico with students searching for unique water stories to tell– what we found was Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa, NM sits about 100 miles east of Albuquerque and is known as the “City of Natural Lakes”. You may know it as the home to The Blue Hole, an 81ft deep sinkhole that is naturally fed from a spring and sends water to several lakes downstream. Hundreds of people each year come to The Blue Hole to become deep-sea scuba diving certified or to simply take a dip in the bright blue water that remains 63 degrees all year round. When I arrived in Santa Rosa with three MSU Denver students, we passed by what seemed to be several road closures resulting from a leaky water pipe. Not thinking much of it, we made our way to The Blue Hole where we spent several hours cliff jumping, swimming, and interviewing visitors. One visitor alerted us to the fact that the leaky pipe in town was actually a natural spring gone out of control. How is that possible? How can it be that in dry, arid New Mexico there was too much water flowing that it couldn’t be contained? Curious to see more we returned to town.
As I walked towards the orange cones and caution tape lining the street, I found streams of water flowing in all directions, making it hard to pinpoint where the water was all coming from (see a video here). Was it coming from the roadside-ditch-turned-pond? Or from under the sewer cap bubbling up water into the road? Or how about the now vacant house on the corner that had been flooded and had a swamp for a yard? I found what I think was the point of origin smack dab in the middle of the road. A large square of concrete had been removed and there, left in its place, was water bubbling and gurgling up from the ground. I had never seen anything like it! This spring was powerful.
The town of Santa Rosa is at an elevation of 4,600ft, the lowest point in the surrounding six miles. The groundwater from the surrounding area flows to Santa Rosa filling the lakes, rivers, sinkholes, and springs. According to a friendly gentleman doing yard work across the street from a line of orange caution cones, there had been heavy rainfall two months earlier causing the spring to overflow. The spring had been flowing nonstop, strong and wild for two whole months. The man said the town didn’t know how to stop it so they just let it flow–thus far the spring was showing no signs of slowing down.
The gentleman admitted his concerns for the future. He had grown up in Santa Rosa, lived there for 50 years, and intended to stay but was worried about the damage this spring had done and how it was managed. What if this happened again? What if it is worse? What if next time it was his house that was flooded and destroyed? With little resources in a town of just over 2,800 residents, what more could they do next time? Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and unpredictable; the American west struggles with drought one month and 100 year floods the next. What will happen to the small town that sits at the bottom of it all?
Nona Shipman is the Manager of the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship located at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is an environmentalist and pet enthusiast.
The Social Documentary class will focus all of their stories on water in the west and those whose livelihood depends on it for the next four semesters. Nona was invited on the New Mexico trip to help students tell the stories of their subjects and make a personal connection with water. Water Studies students at MSU Denver are given the opportunity to travel around the west on trips like this one, join rafting adventures, go on tours and field trips, and attend educational presentations in addition to becoming empowered water stewards! Learn more about the OWOW Center and Water Studies at www.msudenver.edu/owow.