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Drought affecting 99 percent of New Mexico

What you see is what you get when it comes to New Mexico’s mountain snowpacks, and there’s not much to see. In some cases, there’s nothing to see.

The best snowpack in the state, in the Rio Chama Basin, is at 45 percent of normal. The Jemez and Pecos river basins are at 16 and 3 percent of normal, respectively, and the Gila and Rio Hondo basins are at zero.

Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist in the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, said the snowfall season has peaked out.

“We are done there,” Fontenot said during a New Mexico Drought Monitor Working Group session this week. “What we have on the mountains is what you are going to get. What you see is what you get for (spring) runoff.”

He said that even the snow that fell in some of the high northern mountain ranges earlier this week was not enough to help the state hydrologically.

The Drought Monitor Work Group, made up of members of the National Weather Service and state and federal agencies, determines the extent and severity of drought in the state. An updated drought map released Thursday shows that nearly 99 percent of New Mexico is in some stage of drought and more than 34 percent, the northern third of the state, is in extreme drought.

The Drought Monitor Work Group, made up of members of the National Weather Service and state and federal agencies, determines the extent and severity of drought in the state. An updated drought map released on Thursday shows that nearly 99 percent of New Mexico is in some stage of drought and more than 34 percent, the northern third of the state, is in extreme drought.

“We have had deteriorating conditions to the north over the last several months,” Fontenot said. “We have extreme dryness in the northeast part of the state.”

During the Working Group conference, Marshal Wilson of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture said there are reports that farmers in the northeast are planting less corn this year due to dry conditions and that livestock producers are downsizing their herds.

“We have started to see things getting pretty tough,” Wilson said. “The winter wheat crop was bad because we had no snow. We need moisture, and when we get it, high winds dry it out pretty quick.”

Wilson said ranchers are hauling water to herds and confronting a hay shortage that will make supplemental feeding of cattle a challenge.

Anthony Chavez, stage agricultural program specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency, said 15 northern counties now qualify for the federal Livestock Forage Program, which makes funds available to help ranchers buy feed for their cattle once a county has been in severe drought for eight consecutive weeks.

If dry conditions persist, he said, ranchers in most of New Mexico may qualify for the program by the end of April.

Sandbars fill the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque last month. Officials say this year’s precipitation has been sparse and snow pack nearly non existent. AP FILE PHOTO

Chavez said ranchers in counties that are in extreme drought also qualify for the federal Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, which reimburses livestock growers for money spent to haul water to their animals.

“There are people inquiring about these programs and just starting to do sign-ups,” he said.

If there are silver linings, they are in the possibility of a better-than-normal summer monsoon season and the fact there is more water stored in most state reservoirs now than there was at this time last year.

“We know we are going into a real dry spring,” said David Gensler, water operations manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which provides irrigation water for 70,000 acres of cropland in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

“But we’ve got water in storage, and we have been preparing our people,” Gensler said. “I think we will get through (the irrigation season) OK, but there won’t be any room for waste. We are going to be real attentive to make sure no one is taking water out of turn and that everyone is using water efficiently.”

Gensler knows the real challenge may be next year if much of the stored water is used this season and is not replaced by precipitation.

“I am worried about next year,” he said. “But our focus right now has to be on this season. We may shift our thinking into saving water for next year if we get a good monsoon season. If we have any opportunity to keep water upstream, we will. We aren’t going to let anything get by that we don’t have to.”

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