Wait ensues for summer rains as drought blankets New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Water levels at New Mexico’s largest reservoir are dropping and more rivers around the state are being reduced to a trickle as residents, farmers and water managers anxiously await the start of summer rains that could offer some short-term relief to the dry conditions.
The federal drought map released Thursday shows every square mile of New Mexico is dealing with some form of drought as neighboring states across the American Southwest are faring just as poorly.
Climate forecasters who prepare the map each week said significant rains from the monsoon have yet to reach most of Arizona and that only scattered locations across southern and eastern New Mexico recorded over an inch of rain this past week.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Thursday the most noticeable increase in the coverage of showers and thunderstorms so far this season is expected through the weekend.
The lack of snowpack over the winter and little meaningful runoff and rainfall during the spring has left Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico about 18 feet lower than last year. Park authorities say they may have to close areas where visitors typically boat because of the lower water levels.
Upstream, the river bed of the Rio Grande north of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge has been reduced to a dry wash. What is left of the cracked mud has been trampled by animal hooves and vehicle tracks.
The Bureau of Reclamation reports that about 23 miles (37 kilometers) in the San Acacia reach have dried along with another swath drying south of Isleta Pueblo.
Agency spokeswoman Mary Carlson said the bureau is doing what it can to keep the Rio Grande wet in the Albuquerque reach. That means releasing water that has been leased from the San Juan-Chama project — which provides drinking water to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and others.
But between leases from the previous year and what was secured this year, there’s not much left and managers are trying to stretch it until the rains arrive.
“We live in the desert and people are just so passionate about the little bit of water that we have,” Carlson said.
In northwestern New Mexico, the flow of the Animas River at Farmington registered last week as zero. U.S. Geological Survey data showed the previous record for lowest flow in that area was in 2002.
The city of Farmington has imposed mandatory watering restrictions due to the drought as voluntary restrictions are in place in many other communities around the state.
The drought map shows more than 86 percent of New Mexico has been hit by severe drought or worse. This time last year, less than a quarter of the state was dealing with only abnormally dry conditions.