Where the Water Goes

Liam Claus
Sandia National Laboratories
Rio Rancho Cafe Scientifique


Teens in Rio Rancho learned about water from of the Sandia National Lab. Liam Claus’s job is to study water usage and management in the state of New Mexico. He started off by asking us how we use water (i.e., showers, toilets, irrigation, drinking, etc.) and where our water comes from (groundwater, reservoirs in northern New Mexico and diverted rivers, as well as the Rio Grande).

To demonstrate the flow of water through this system, he poured water between two different containers as we came up with ideas, and compared this exchange of water to making withdraws and deposits in a bank account. Once we had a good idea of where our water comes from and where it goes after we use it, Vincent introduced us to a complex computer program that can project water levels in rivers and aquifers, as well as what the price of water will be when different variables are manipulated. For example, if we increased the amount of farmland, the water in the river would go down because that’s what’s used for irrigation. Conversely, if we increased the number of homes, river levels would stay constant while groundwater levels would drop. We then got a chance to manipulate the variables ourselves and try to balance cost with water levels in aquifers and the river. Throughout the presentation, there was a lot of back-and-forth between the presenter and the audience.

Hands on Activity

For the activity, the audience split into four groups and each person chose a role to assume (farmer, environmentalist, city water manager, etc.) with different interests. Each group then discussed how to manage the water to best benefit all their stakeholders. When they had come to consensus, they plugged their changes into the computer program and saw the effects of their proposed changes.