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Droughts are a serious concern in New Mexico:

In Southern New Mexico, the mighty Rio Grande has gone dry — reduced to a sandy wash winding from this chile farming community to the nation’s leading pecan-producing county. Only puddles remain, leaving gangs of carp to huddle together in a desperate effort to avoid the fate of thousands of freshwater clams, their shells empty and broken on the river bottom.

Across the state’s eastern plains, wells stand empty and ranchers are selling their cattle. In the north, urbanites face watering restrictions while rural residents see the levels of their springs dropping more every day.

Going on three years, drought has had a hold on nearly every square mile of New Mexico. Now, with forecasts predicting hotter, drier weather ahead, farmers and small and large communities alike are questioning whether dwindling supplies can be stretched enough to avoid costly fights over water.

From the chile fields and pecan orchards of the Hatch and Mesilla valleys to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and beyond, New Mexicans are facing tough choices and dire consequences.
“Last year my son said, ‘Mom, what do we let die? The hay, the wheat, the onions or the chile?’ ” said Rena Carson, whose family owns a chile-drying plant and spice company in the Hatch Valley and ships tons of products around the world annually.

In the last two years, the family has drilled two new wells to draw more irrigation water, but the groundwater level in the valley continues to drop — and the wells can’t be drilled any deeper. This year, the family had to let 20 of their 800 acres go uncultivated. - Santa Fe New Mexican, 4/25/13

And the drought problem is getting worse:

Albuquerque is 10 inches below average over the last 2-1/2 years, and the 36 and 48 month statewide averages are approaching the worst similar periods during the drought of the 1950s. “It’s not just a short term drought. This is a long term drought we’re in.” Chuck Jones, National Weather Service

In eastern New Mexico, in some areas and for some time periods, the Palmer Drought Severity Index (a good measure of soil moisture) is worse than the 1950s. Deirdre Kann

It used to be that a lousy snowpack tilted the odds toward a good summer rainy season, but four out of the last five bad snow years have been followed by bad summer rains. Chuck Jones

On the Pecos, the snowpack has largely melted out, but “not one drop made it into Santa Rosa”, the main reservoir on that river in New Mexico. Raymond Abeyta, US Bureau of Reclamation

The pattern Abeyta talked about on the Pecos is being seen elsewhere in New Mexico, with snow disappearing but streams not rising. Likely caused by lousy summer and fall rains last year, which left soil and shallow aquifers thirsty. Wayne Sleep, NRCS

Agencies that use San Juan-Chama water (Colorado River Basin exports to Rio Grande Valley) should get full allotments this year (good news!) but things look risky for their allotments next year (bad news!). Abeyta, USBR - Albuquerque Journal, 4/24/13

But Senator Tom Udall (D. NM) is taking action:

Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, was in Las Cruces Tuesday to release a 31-page paper looking at ways to deal with the continuing drought in the region.The study grew out of a conference held last August. Udall said New Mexico needs to realize that while the drought is likely to end at some point, current conditions have to be addressed.

“That requires cooperation. It requires collaboration. That is how we move forward. That’s what this paper is all about,” Udall said in a statement.

The paper, which is posted on the senator’s website, considers 40 proposals regarding infrastructure, water transfers, agricultural practices, conservation and planning.

“Water conservation is necessary. But we must focus on where the conserved water goes,” Udall said. “If it just goes to more growth, or more production, then we can increase our drought risk.” - Albuquerque Business Journal, 5/1/13

You can read Udall's report here:

His report has 40 proposals on what can be done about the drought problem but here are a few highlights:

The water report released Tuesday proposes, among other actions, the following:

— Fully funding of the 2009 Secure Water Act, which calls for a census of national water supplies, especially in water-scarce Western states. Continue paying for basin studies in the Upper and Lower Rio Grande basins.

— Restoring federal funding to a network of stream flow monitoring stations, needed to supply information to water users, and detect long-term changes in water supply. Dollars have been curtailed with cuts to the federal budget.

— Continuing funding for the United States-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act, which pays for studies of groundwater supplies along the international border.

— Continued backing of desalination research, such as through a federal test facility in Alamogordo.

— More funding for programs that help reduce water waste, such as through use of new leak detection technology.

— To "better manage existing dams and reservoirs in order to maximize both agricultural and environmental water needs. The two purposes are not mutually exclusive."

— To promote using voluntary, temporary water transfers within a river system to "preserve agricultural water rights, while maximizing the potential for" environmental use of water.

—Encouraging "greater scrutiny" of large water projects that propose shifting water from one region to another, such as the Arizona Water Settlement Act, related to the Gila River in southwest New Mexico, and the Ute Pipeline Project. Udall's report argues that any Gila River project tied to the settlement "should not move forward without cost/benefit analysis, feasibility studies, full exploration of economic need, ecological study and full consideration of all proposed alternatives for use of settlement funds and water."

Source — Conference Report: Policy Options from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute's 57th Annual New Mexico Water Conference - Las Cruces Sun-News, 4/30/13

If you'd like more information, please contact Udall's office for more information:

(202) 224-6621

And if you would like to donate to Udall's 2014 re-election campaign, you can do so here:

Originally posted to pdc on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and New Mexico Kossaks.

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