Rains ease New Mexico’s short-term drought

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Several weeks of rain have brought much-needed, if uneven, drought relief around New Mexico.

An egret walks the muddy waters of the Rio Grande earlier this month near the Alameda bridge. Monsoon rains have propped up Rio Grande flows in recent weeks. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The moisture has created a drastic drop in the state’s exceptional drought conditions since the summer began.

Kerry Jones, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque, said the steady rain has likely benefited the eastern plains the most.

But the Four Corners region is still in the “crosshairs.”

“Farmington, yes they’ve had some precipitation the last 14 days or so, but they’re still 2 inches below average for the water year,” Jones said. “Compare that to Roswell, which now has its fifth-wettest June 1 through July 26 on record, and is over 6 inches above average now for the water year.”

A monsoon storm over the northern Sandia mountains and foothills on July 23. Recent rainfall has created a drastic drop in the state’s exceptional drought conditions. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Roswell has recorded about 11 inches of rain since June 1. Clovis and Tucumcari each received more than 8 inches during that period.

About 9% of New Mexico remains in exceptional drought, the most severe category used by forecasters, but that’s a significant drop from 21% last week and from the 53% three months ago.

Monsoon rains have also propped up Rio Grande flows in Albuquerque, holding off – for now – the dire warnings of a dry river throughout the city this summer.

But rains have not translated into a boost for reservoirs, said Julie Valdez, the Water Use and Conservation bureau chief for the Office of the State Engineer.

“They’re looking pretty sad,” Valdez said. “It’s going to take a long time before we even get close to being near the average on Elephant Butte.”

The southern reservoir is at about 6% of capacity.

Max Henkels, a New Mexico Department of Agriculture analyst, said rain has helped pasture conditions.

“Topsoil moisture especially is much better than average, and subsoil moisture is also looking better than last year or the five-year average,” Henkels said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that about 37% of the state’s pastures and rangelands are in very poor or poor condition, compared with 50% last year.

About 65% of cattle in New Mexico are receiving supplemental feed compared with 78% at this time last year, a sign that grass growth may be improving.

So far, this year’s monsoon is a major change from the past two years, when forecasters labeled the disappointing seasons as “non-soons.” But the multiyear drought made worse this year by limited spring runoff and scorching June temperatures won’t be easily reversed.

“Let’s hope our prolific monsoon season continues to deliver as we get into August,” Jones said. “In the short term things are obviously looking really good, (but) as we broaden out and look more at the last 12 months and beyond, not as much.”

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

 

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