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Limited water in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — From fires to flooding and now the issue of having clean water, this year has been a struggle for the people of Las Vegas, New Mexico. 

The Rio Gallinas near Las Vegas, New Mexico, appears much lower and shallower than usual this summer as a result of devastation caused by local wildfires. (Photo Courtesy of Paul Montoya)

In April 2022, the people of Las Vegas experienced the catastrophic fires at Calf Canyon and Hermit’s Peak. Many lost their homes, some had nowhere to go, while others made the decision to pack up and leave. Families returned home to piles of ashes and thousands of dollars left behind.

Now that the fires are a thing of the past, residents are struggling with a different element, water. Monsoon season was expected to be a new beginning, but resulted in more devastation. Streets were flooded, families couldn’t access their homes and debris from the fires washed into the water supply from the Rio Gallinas River.

City officials planned a strategy to assess the contaminated water on a daily basis. Maria Gilvarry, the city’s utilities director, shared the process of laboratory water testing to ensure safety for drinking and bathing.

“We take samples from the Rio Gallinas River and Storrie Lake State Park to process, so people don’t have to drink from the tap,” she said.

Not only does Gilvarry mention how they clean the water, but also spoke about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing for local residents.

“FEMA is located at the Abe Montoya Recreation Center every week supplying bottles of water to the community,” she said. “There have been some instances where we know days are limited from 20 to 25, but with new samples every day, Las Vegas is estimated to have 40 days left of water.”

The estimated number of days vary for now, but the people of Las Vegas are having different experiences.

Las Vegas resident Maria Montoya says she’s trying the best she can to conserve water. According to Montoya, some people in the city limits are not conserving water.  

“We’ve been told over and over to use very little water, but there are people who aren’t aware of the situation,” she said. “When they use too much water, it’s supposed to be reported to the police but it’s not having much of an effect.”

Montoya compared the situation to the Colorado River running low.

Water is pumped out of the Rio Gallinas in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in order to take samples and test them for contamination. The river was compromised and is now almost completely dry as a result of local wildfires earlier this year. (Photo Courtesy of Maria Montoya)

“Having a water shortage in the Colorado River is a big loss right now. If you think about it, the river pours into streams where it reaches the Rio Grande,” she said.

Without that large water source it could hurt not only the people, but also wildlife. Montoya also mentioned that restaurant owners are taking measures to preserve water.

“There are times when I go out to eat, [and] they have to bring food on plastic plates so they won’t have to use [water] for dishes,” she said.

Many restaurants are closing because restaurant owners can’t use water, and they can’t afford to keep buying the same disposable plates and silverware every day.

NMSU students who are from Las Vegas are concerned how about how this will be resolved. “It has been a long summer for the people of Las Vegas,” NMSU student Joel Curtis said. “The aftermath of the fires was a lot to deal with,” Curtis said. “I was confused when I heard we are experiencing a water shortage after all the rain.”

To stay up to date on the Las Vegas water shortage, visit the Las Vegas Community Connections Facebook page or contact the City of Las Vegas Utilities Customer Service Department at (505) 454-1401.  

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