Monday, October 31, 2011

NM drought

Everyone in New Mexico knows about the drought — from the farmers and ranchers who live on the plains to ditch riders in the Rio Grande Valley and backyard gardeners in the state's largest city. They've felt the sting of what has become one of the driest years in over a century. While the taps aren't expected to dry up any time soon, New Mexico's reservoirs are low and conservation has regained its place on the stage as one of this arid state's buzzwords. The only hope for New Mexico is some much-needed moisture during the winter, and those hopes are already being dashed by forecasters who are predicting high probabilities for below-normal rain and snow. With back-to-back years of scant precipitation looming, water managers are concerned about the state slipping into a downward spiral. With soil so dry, any drop of rain would be quickly absorbed, keeping it from making its way into rivers and reservoirs. At stake are rural economies, endangered species and mandates for delivering water to Texas and Mexico. While the city taps will remain on, farmers in southern New Mexico aren't so sure they will get what they need for their crops next year. In the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, this year marked the shortest irrigation season on record at one month and it could be just as short next year. In the Carlsbad Irrigation District in southeastern New Mexico, projections show farmers could end up next year with less than a third of their normal allotment of three acre-feet of water per acre of land. "If La Nina hangs in here, we're just drilling further down into the drought," said Gary Esslinger, manager of the Elephant Butte district, which has some 8,500 members. Farmers have few options, none of which Esslinger said is ideal — curtailing crops, leaving land uncultivated or bunching up crops close to groundwater wells...more

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