Several days ago I Tweeted a link (thanks to good friend and colleague Mike Langston) to an infographic titled, The Great New Mexico Water Crisis, created by Lucas Lindsey. Unfortunately, because of formatting issues, I cannot post a picture of the graphic here so you will have to visit the link.
There are a number of things wrong about this 'infographic', which purports to explain, in straightforward terms, the gravity of the current New Mexico drought, a point I do not dispute. But it falls far short of its objective and is downright misleading.
It begins by saying that New Mexico has the lowest percentage of its area that is surface water (0.02 %) of any state, The state's ranking is correct but that figure is one-tenth of what is should be: 0.2% (see USGS table). But so what? A number of states, including some perceived as 'wet' (relative to New Mexico, at least) have low percentages of their total area as surface water: Iowa (0.7%); Hawaii (0.6%); West Virginia (0.7%); Ohio (0.9%); and Indiana (0.9%). All these states are smaller in land area than New Mexico. Ohio (over five times) and Indiana (three times) have much greater populations than New Mexico, so these two states should be in dire straits as well, with a tad bit more surface water area but much greater populations. These figures exclude the Great Lakes, to which Indiana and Ohio have access. And keep in mind that some of that surface water area might be a huge through-flowing stream. So the surface water percentage area is no big deal, right?
Another misleading issue with the percentage of surface water area is that surface water area is not always well correlated with water volume, a far more useful statistic than surface area when you are talking about water supply. Lake Tahoe (Nevada-California) and Pyramid Lake (Nevada) have approximately the same surface area - about 190 square miles or almost 500 aquare kliometers - but Lake Tahoe has over five times Pyramid Lake's volume - 150 cubic kilometers (122 MAF) vs. 29 cubic kilometers (24 MAF).
And which water would you rather use? I'll take Lake Tahoe's water quality any day! The infographic does not mention the quality of that surface water.
Last gripe: the infographic does not take groundwater into account. Duhhh...
The infographic does contain figures on the percentage (100%) of lakes and reservoirs that are well below normal, population growth, and water use. I did not verify these but they seem reasonable based on my knowledge (I lived in New Mexico from 1989 through May 2006).
New Mexico is indeed in the throes of a serious drought but this infogaphic is not much help in explaining the issue, and provides incorrect information.
"Under current trends and trajectories, future water supply will not meet future demand in New Mexico." - Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), from the infographic