Heron Lake and its legacy shrinking as drought takes its toll

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PUBLISHED: Friday, June 13, 2014 at 12:05 am

John Polk, an Albuquerque attorney, was taken aback when he read a Journal North article in April about the Albuquerque-area water utility’s effort to condemn property to expand storage capacity in Abiquiu Lake.

“I’ll be damned” and “Tilt! What are we doing here?” are two ways Polk describes his reaction.

Polk owns property at another northern New Mexico reservoir, Heron Lake, which is running out of water.

The lake near Tierra Amarilla was holding more than 350,000 acre-feet during summers in the late 1990s, making it a popular recreation site for boating, camping, fishing and weekend homes. Postcards of the era described Heron and its scenic high desert shores as the Acapulco of New Mexico.

By July 2013, the lake was down to about 100,000 acre-feet (it’s at about 114,000 acre-feet now). Heron’s water storage is expected to go below 80,000 acre-feet by the end of 2014, with a 5-foot drop in the water level over the year. A campground that used to sit on the shoreline is now a hike away from water. What was a sailboat marina has become a mud bog.

“I’m looking at an almost-drained Heron Lake, and they want to spend money to put more water in a lake (Abiquiu) at lower elevation with a higher evaporation rate?” Polk said. “It makes no sense to me.”

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