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New Mexico Science

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

Drought on the Rio Grande: “The worst year ever.”

New Mexico State University professor Phil King calls this "the worst year ever" in a century of modern New Mexico water management on the Rio Grande.
New Mexico State University professor Phil King calls this "the worst year ever" in a century of modern New Mexico water management on the Rio Grande.
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New Mexico State University professor Phil King calls this “the worst year ever” in a century of modern New Mexico water management on the Rio Grande.

New Mexico State University professor Phil King calls this “the worst year ever” in a century of modern New Mexico water management on the Rio Grande.

With the preliminary April 1 runoff forecast numbers in hand, this is “the worst year ever” on the Rio Grande, according to Phil King, New Mexico State University professor and the water management adviser to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. “Ever” in this case translates to a century of water management on the river system through modern New Mexico.

The most likely forecast calls for just 14 percent of the long term average for spring runoff into Elephant Butte Reservoir, according to federal forecasters. That’s not a surprise – King and others were watching the March weather and knew the numbers would be bad. But still… “It hurts to get slugged in the stomach,” King told me this afternoon, “even if you were expecting it.”

EBID will begin releasing what limited water it has to lower Rio Grande farmers beginning in early June, and hope for a big monsoon, King said.

Upstream, farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are seeing water already in their ditches, but it’s not clear how long that will last, according to David Gensler, the agency’s water manager. The District will run out of stored water in upstream dams sometime in late June, according to Gensler, after which farmers will depend on whatever meager supply comes from natural river flow.

“This is going to be one of, if not the worst years in memory,” Gensler said.

For city water users, the problem is a bit more obscure. Albuquerque is currently pushing imported San Juan-Chama water from the Colorado River Basin to customers, but by summer the low flows in the river will force the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to switch to groundwater, according to John Stomp, head of water ops for the utility.

I’ll have more in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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