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House panel OKs $3.5M for 111 weather stations

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Lewis Hisel’s cows graze on short, dry grass in Guadalupe County in October. A bill sponsored by Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, would create more weather stations across the state to provide accurate rainfall data for farmers and ranchers. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers are eligible for federal assistance programs and crop insurance payouts during extreme drought.

But sparse rain gauges scattered across the state’s vast rangelands may not paint an accurate picture of local rainfall. Agricultural producers are then left without data that reflects the drought conditions on their land.

With that data gap in mind, the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would direct $3.5 million from the general fund for more than 100 new weather stations across the state.

House Bill 48 sponsor Rep. Martin Zamora, a Clovis Republican, said more weather stations would help farmers and ranchers make irrigation decisions and access drought relief.

“In 2019, when ranchers in Guadalupe County bought forage (insurance) policies, the state had very little rain gauges working and in place, so there was a rain gauge used in Ruidoso to measure rainfall in Guadalupe County,” Zamora said. “That put policyholders out of any claims that they had.”

The New Mexico State University state climate office has 26 weather stations that measure rainfall and soil moisture.

If the bill becomes law, the office will use $2.8 million to construct 111 stations and update 27 stations. An additional $758,000 would cover staff and maintenance.

The state’s network would expand to 3 to 6 stations per county, State Climatologist Dave DuBois said.

Stations would update weather data every five minutes, and systems could monitor high winds and hail, in addition to rainfall.

“We’re trying to get caught up and provide more information that is needed for forecasting and providing public safety,” DuBois said.

Other rural, agricultural states have far more weather monitoring stations than New Mexico: Oklahoma has 120, and North Dakota has 91.

State Engineer John D’Antonio said better station data could inform New Mexico’s water management decisions and modeling.

Several agriculture and conservation groups also spoke in support of the bill.

“It will be a vital tool in farming to get this instant readout,” said Walter Bradley, a former state senator and current government relations director for the Dairy Farmers of America. “It’s great for helping us preserve what water we have.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill at Tuesday’s committee meeting. Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, is carrying a similar bill in the Senate.

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


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