No end in sight for drought

A dead fish rests on the dry bed of the Rio Grande in Bosque del Apache, south of Socorro, at the end of May. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A drought affecting most of the state remains just as bad as it was last month, according to the National Weather Service and state officials.

A map released Thursday by the state’s Drought Monitoring Workgroup indicated that 87 percent of the state remains in severe or worse drought.

That’s down from 89 percent last month, but conditions are still looking extremely dry in this part of the world.

At the end of June 2017, that percentage was 0.

Now, 18 percent of New Mexico – stretching from the Four Corners across much of the northern part of the state – is in exceptional drought.

“It takes a lot more than one wet 24-hour period to get us out of drought,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kerry Jones said Thursday.

Drought mapRemnants of Hurricane Bud provided substantial rain two weeks ago in some areas of the state, including Albuquerque, but that wasn’t the case in the northern areas of the state experiencing exceptional drought.

Only a small strip of land along the state’s southern border from Las Cruces eastward, making up around 1.3 percent of the state, is currently drought-free.

Rivers around the state, including the Rio Grande, are dry or hardly flowing at some points.

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said the Rio Grande near Embudo north of Española was the lowest in history for Thursday’s date in more than 120 years of record keeping.

A 22-mile stretch of the river in Socorro County is dry.

There, the carcasses of fish litter the white sand of what should be a wet ribbon winding through the desert.

Fleck said the the Rio Grande is still wet in Albuquerque only because of releases from the Heron, El Vado and Abiquiú reservoirs.

“It’s not clear how much longer those supplies of stored water will last,” Fleck said.

Depending on monsoon rains, Fleck said, the river could go dry in Albuquerque in August, which would be the first time that has happened since 1977.

The Pecos River, too, is essentially dry above the Santa Rosa Reservoir.

The winter’s abysmal snowpack has taken a toll on the state’s reservoirs.

Conchas Lake was down more than 15,500 acre-feet, and Abiquiu Reservoir was down 13,000 acre-feet since the beginning of the month.

An acre-foot is equal to the amount of water it takes to cover an acre in 1 foot of water: about 326,000 gallons.

The dry conditions have also created ideal wildfire conditions.

Beth Wojahn, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, said 416 fires have charred 226,445 acres since Jan. 1.

That’s compared with 527 fires that burned 78,126 acres in the entire 2017 fiscal year, from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017.

“It’s significantly higher,” Wojahn said.

In Albuquerque, water use has been kept under control, said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.

Water Utility Authority customers have used around 160 million more gallons than they had at this time last year.

“That sounds like a lot, but that’s equal to about three-fourths of a gallon more a day,” Yuhas said.

The state is in the midst of a heat wave, and temperatures have soared into the 100s in some areas. No precipitation is forecast in the near future for the Albuquerque area.

The Rio Grande near Lemitar, north of Socorro, was nearly dry in places at the end of May. Drought conditions in the state have largely stayed the same since then. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

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