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New Mexico Science

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

Drought watch: the view from El Paso

Elephant Butte levels, Feb. 3, 2013, courtesy USBR
Elephant Butte levels, Feb. 3, 2013, courtesy USBR
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Elephant Butte Reservoir, on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, is nearly empty, currently 17 feet below last year at this time according to the US Bureau of Reclamation’s daily report.

You can see from the graph at the right the reservoir’s annual ups and downs – rising in the spring runoff, dropping during summer use. But each of the last for years, the summer drop was bigger than the previous spring runoff. The result is a steadily dropping reservoir.

That’s not only a problem for New Mexicans in the lower Rio Grande Valley who depend on water stored behind the dam for their summer water use. Folks in El Paso also are eyeing the reservoir’s level nervously:

In a typical summer, EPWU pumps half of its water supply from wells in the city and the other half comes from water released from Elephant Butte Lake into the Rio Grande. Continued drought in New Mexico and Colorado means less river water than usual will be available to El Paso.

“El Paso Water Utilities plans to make up the difference by relying more heavily on well water,” said EPWU President & CEO John E. Balliew, P.E. “We’re preparing by drilling new wells and building new pipelines to more efficiently move that water around the city. The bottom line is that we expect less river water again this year. For now, it’s just too early to know how much less.”

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