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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Drought watch: the great emptiness of Elephant Butte Reservoir

Elephant Butte Reservoir storage, as of 1/25/2013
Elephant Butte Reservoir storage, as of 1/25/2013, courtesy US Bureau of Reclamation
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Warning: if you are disturbed by graphic depictions of drought, whatever you do, don’t buy next Tuesday’s newspaper.

Unless this weekend’s storms are of Noachian proportions (in which case I’ll reverse field and write gleefully about floods – we journalists are nothing if not adaptable), I’m planning a roundup Tuesday of the key water supply trouble spots around the state as we head into the Great Drought of ’13.

Here’s a teaser, courtesy of Phil King down at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. It’s King’s favorite one-stop New Mexico drought indicator – a graph of the contents of Elephant Butte Reservoir over time:

As King points out, reservoir storage is a great drought indicator because it captures two distinct but equally important drought variables into a single measure:

  • how much water nature provides to fill the reservoir
  • how much water humans remove to flush their toilets and water their crops

By this measure, we’re in the tenth year of drought. But if you look back in time, the drought of the 1950s was far worse.

I’ll have more in Tuesday’s paper on what the Butte’s great emptiness means for southern New Mexico farmers, plus a look at issues on the Pecos, up here in the middle Rio Grande and on the headwaters of the San Juan. Unless it rains enough this weekend for me to write about flooding instead. That would be a treat.

(Graph courtesy of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Reservoir Operations folks)

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