Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Drought Impacts in New Mexico this Summer

It's not news to New Mexicans that the state is in the middle of a serious drought this year. Nearly all state residents have felt the effects of the drought on some area of their lives. Certainly farmers and ranchers are feeling it in their pocketbooks this year; farmers will grow fewer crops and some ranchers are spending thousands more dollars to keep their animals fed. Homeowners find themselves sweeping layers of dust from their homes and watering even the native plants and grasses to keep them alive. New Mexicans who want to visit state or national parks might find sections closed due to fire danger. And individuals and whole communities have had to truck in water because the rain water they depend upon hasn't fallen or because their wells have run dry. The Drought Mitigation Center maintains a Drought Impact Reporter that compiles reports of drought impacts from across the country. Reading through the reports for New Mexico makes for sobering reading. There are reports from all over the state that include information on how the drought is impacting agriculture, fire, plants and wildlife, society and public health, tourism and recreation, and water supply and quality.

The map below from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the prevalence of drought around the country.This is the latest map available, current as of July 16. The severity of the drought is shown through the colors:  light yellow areas indicate a region that is abnormally dry and the darkest red areas indicate regions that are experiencing the most severe drought.  Notice that New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, western Nebraska, southeastern Colorado, the four corners region, and parts of eastern Arizona make up the epicenter of the drought. Parts of Nevada, Montana and Wyoming are also experiencing severe drought.
Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

As of July 16, the U.S. Drought Monitor has the entire state of New Mexico in a drought. In fact, we are the state that is experiencing the worst of the drought this summer. 86.07% of the state is classified as D-3 or D-4, the two most severe categories of drought. These two classifications indicate that there may be major pasture or crop loses and water restrictions (lighter red) or exceptional and widespread crop and pasture loses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells that create water emergencies (darker red). More information on what the colors indicate see our website here.

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor
One place that has experienced a water emergency this summer has been Magdalena. The village in Socorro County was getting water from one well, which ran dry in early June-- see this NBC News report. Village residents needed to truck in water; some county residents went to Socorro to fill their water jugs and tanks. Since then, the village has been able to get the well working again, and the village Mayor and city council decided to spend $200, 000.00 to fix the well--see the report from the newspaper El Defensor Chieftain (Socorro). But according to reports from the Albuquerque Journal, Magdalena is not the only small community in New Mexico to have water woes. It often happens that the droughts will stress the infrastructure of a small community. In fact, the 2002-2003 drought caused around 70 small communities in the state to run out of water.

The graph below shows the drought in Socorro County since January 2012. The colors show what level of drought is occurring and the percents on the left indicate how much of the county is in that level. The dates along the bottom range from January 2012 to July 22, 2013. Notice that in early 2012 of last year 90% of the county was already in severe drought (the light yellow indicates that a very low percentage of the county is just abnormally dry). This summer, more than 70% of the county is in exceptional drought and the rest is in extreme drought. The last time no part of the county was experiencing drought was in 2010.

This image was created using one of the drought products available from the New Mexico Climate Center's website. You can request drought time series like the one above for the state or for individual counties. Click here here to learn more.

Although many areas in New Mexico are experiencing some relief with rain from the monsoon season, we're going to need more than just one summer's worth of rain to get out of drought conditions. We'll need the upcoming winters to be wet, too.

In the meantime, New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service has a list of publications to help you cope with the drought in the areas of agronomy, livestock and range management, and home gardening and landscaping.

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