TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM — For centuries, Native American tribal leaders and others have traveled to this oasis to rest and relax in the abundant hot springs that flow underground, bubbling across the desert floor.

But in the midst of a worsening regional drought, the city with the curious name is losing 200 million gallons of drinking water a year to antiquated underground pipes that leak, spit, and sometimes gush 30 feet into the air, putting risk not only to its nearly 6,000 residents. to have their water cut off, but they also threaten operations at the city’s five public schools and its only hospital and nursing home.

Schools have already been forced to close without notice multiple times in the past year as water is cut off while repairs are made, city officials said.

Water department worker Andrew Curry, 34, repairs a pipe in Truth or Consequences, NM, where new leaks pop up almost every day.Paul Ratje for NBC News

The system is so old that it includes wooden pipes built in the 19th century and is serviced by a worker from the city’s Water Department and two others on loan from the sewer department. Last week, they were responsible for repairing 14 broken lines, 11 of which occurred in a single day, wastewater director Arnulfo Castañeda said.

Resident Susan Abts, 72, said her water supply was abruptly shut off last month after a break near her home caused a jet to shoot 30 feet into the air.

“I worry about where this is going,” he said.

jesus baray
Jesús Baray, 33, manager of El Faro restaurant in Truth or Consequences, NM, says the family business often has unexpected water outages.Paul Ratje for NBC News

So is Jesús Baray, the manager of the El Faro restaurant, who lost his water without warning three weeks ago while meals were being served and dishes were being washed. The downtown business was closed for two days.

“I understand to a degree, but it keeps happening,” Baray said. «That’s the frustration.»

Last year up to 30 water pipes broke in one day. As the system continues to fail, water in some parts of the city could be cut off for a week, City Manager Bruce Swingle said.

«It’s a crisis,» he said last week. «We are there.»


Millions of gallons, representing 43% of the city’s supply, were lost last year as the West battles a drought so severe it threatens the power-generating capacity of Lakes Mead and Powell, and dries up the Colorado River , which provides much of the region’s water.

The situation also reflects the geographic divide in the US, as rural communities compete with large metropolitan areas for a share of the $555 billion federal infrastructure bill to improve aging bridges, highways, levees and pipelines in the country.