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Throughout the basin, which receives little rainfall, there are sand dunes and dune fields, some vegetated and some active.The Santa Fe group deposits accumulated in the basin between the middle Miocene and early Pliocene, from fifteen to one million years ago.Alluvial sediment came from the adjacent highlands and fluvial sediments came from southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.During the Middle to Late Miocene era the Albuquerque and Espanola basins formed one basin, an irregular half-graben tilting west, formed by high-angle faulting on reactivated structures from the Laramide orogeny.Average annual rainfall ranges from 190 millimetres (7.5 in) at Belen to 760 millimetres (30 in) at Sandia Crest.Precipitation comes from local thunderstorms in summer and from storm fronts in winter.The MRGCD was maintaining four diversion dams and reservoirs, 834 miles (1,342 km) of canals and ditches and 404 miles (650 km) of riverside drains.
There were volcanic eruptions throughout the period while the Santa Fe Group sediments were being deposited, and these continued into the late Pleistocene.The amount of rain that falls in a given year or place in the basin is unpredictable. Throughout the basin, potential evapotranspiration is much higher than rainfall, meaning the ground is dry most of the time unless it is irrigated.Vegetation includes desert scrub and grassland in the lower levels, riparian woodland (bosque) along the Rio Grande, and woods on the mountain slopes.) is one of the largest and deepest of the structural basins in the Rio Grande rift. Geologically, the Albuquerque Basin is a half-graben that slopes down towards the east to terminate on the Sandia and Manzano mountains.
In times of low water levels in the Rio Grande, Albuquerque relies on groundwater for its potable water supply.The aquifer is composed of deposits from the ancestral Rio Grande and the size of its annual resource follows fluctuations in weather and climate phenomena.