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‘Things are not looking good,’ state climatologist says

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Thursday marked the start of a new water year for New Mexico, but water managers are unsure if the coming months will bring any relief for the parched state.

All of New Mexico is in some level of drought, according to a map released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Nearly three-fourths of the state is experiencing severe drought. Areas of southeast and southwest New Mexico are in extreme or exceptional drought.

State climatologist Dave DuBois said the worsening drought is taking a toll on farmers and ranchers and soil moisture levels statewide.

“On the ground, in the field, things are not looking good,” DuBois said during a Wednesday meeting of the state drought task force. “Several people say this is similar to the 2011 drought in terms of impact. We got a really dry monsoon this year as well as last year, in addition to a really, really hot and dry spring and summer.”

The latest drought map for New Mexico. The southwest and southeast corners of the state are bearing the brunt of high temperatures and little rainfall. Darker regions of the map represent more severe drought. (Source: National Drought Mitigation Center)

The state engineer’s office has implemented water shortage sharing agreements this year on the Jemez, Gallinas, Animas and Chama rivers.

The voluntary agreements go into effect when stream flow dips below a certain level, said John Romero, director of the water resource allocation program and the water rights division.

“These plans are designed to get everyone some amount of water during irrigation season,” Romero said.

Meteorologists expect a La Niña weather pattern to develop this winter. In the past, that has translated into dry conditions in the southern United States, said Royce Fontenot, hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

“Looking into November, December, January, that’s above-normal conditions expected on temperatures, and holding those below normal precipitation chances into winter,” Fontenot said.

A below-average snowpack in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico could affect water levels next spring and summer in the San Juan and Rio Grande basins. Those are two major water sources for farmers and municipalities.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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