Forecasters: New Mexico ought to put together for a worsening drought

through: BY SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated press

Posted: Dec 24, 2021 / 4:44 PM MSTUpdated: 12/24/2021 / 5:39 PM MST

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – The past three months have been very dry in New Mexico and it’s only getting worse. This is what forecasters from the National Weather Service and other state climate experts say. You said during a meeting this week that New Mexico reservoirs continue to be well below historical averages and that ranchers are preparing for a low-humidity winter in the area.

Some snow is expected at the higher elevations on Christmas Eve, but it will be less than the rainfall that has helped ease drought conditions elsewhere in the west in recent weeks. Parts of California are expecting more snow, but the latest drought map shows that nearly half of the western region is still grappling with the worst categories of drought.

Andrew Mangham, a senior hydrologist with the Albuquerque Weather Service, shared a series of maps showing the odds of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall were good for the next two weeks, the next month, and well into April.

“The story really is that we had a dry year that just keeps getting worse as we move through this second La Niña,” he said.

The benefits of decent monsoons over the summer were all but gone and most of New Mexico missed any significant moisture in the fall, Mangham said. There was some snow in the far northern regions of the state earlier this month, but he said New Mexico would need a lot more of it to bring snowpack closer to normal for this time of year.

Electricity flows? Soil moisture? Mangham said it was the same story and it didn’t look good for next year.

“Everything is getting drier,” he repeated.

Ranchers say they are feeling the pinch, and farmers who rely on traditional irrigation systems called acequias worry that they will have water to harvest next spring.

Bone dry with wind that makes it even drier, Paula Garcia described the conditions. As the director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, she hears firsthand about the challenges facing family businesses and individual growers.

“Last year we had some snow at the end of 2020 and we had a very dry spring with little or no runoff. This year the last few months have been worse. If this continues, we wonder if there will be a snowmelt in the spring, ”she said.

The association is planning a series of meetings between acequia executives to discuss the coming year, to share observations on the drought, to deal with scarcity and conflict, and to address the need for more water-sharing agreements for the areas that need it most.

In Nara Visa, a small village near the New Mexico-Texas state line, rancher Cliff Copeland talks about the dust and its effects on his cattle. He and other ranchers had already reduced their herds last year due to the drought. Summer rains helped the grasslands recover a bit, so when combined with smaller herds it would help come winter, but the rising cost of feed is worrying, he said.

“It’s very rare that you get barely measurable rainfall at this time of year, so that’s very worrying,” he said. “It is potentially devastating and it is sure to get everyone’s attention.”

For Copeland, who serves as the regional vice president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, doing more with less is an important part of the equation that has helped keep the family ranch alive for four generations.

“It’s part of evolution,” he said. “… Therefore it is extremely important for us to pass this on to the children and grandchildren and to keep our business running as we have done for so long.”

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