U.S. Water News Online
ALBUQUERQUE -- New Mexico could be parched for decades, so
state residents should get used to water limits, say climate experts
and state officials.
``Drought is something that we need to start factoring into the
way we live our lives,'' state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources
Secretary Joanna Prukop said during a drought summit at the
University of New Mexico.
The Southwest is in a ``megadrought'' in which large-scale climate
patterns conspire to push rain and snow away from the region, said
Julio Betancourt, a drought researcher at the U.S. Geological
Survey's desert laboratory in Tucson, Ariz.
Scientists have been watching the drought coming since the late
1990s, but they do not know enough to predict its extent or duration,
said Betancourt, the summit's keynote speaker.
``If I were a betting man, I'd say I'd be very conservative about
water resources,'' he said.
The current climate pattern, driven by warm water in the North
Atlantic and cool water in the Northeast Pacific, is similar to the
drought of the 1950s and other dry periods, Betancourt said.
Steve Hansen, assistant area manager for the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation in Albuquerque, said long-term droughts are part of New
``Basically, we don't live in a very wet area,'' he said.
The recent drought drained Elephant Butte Reservoir in just a few
years, but it will take much longer for it to refill. Overall,
reservoirs around the state are now at just 40 percent of normal
levels, Hansen said.
Drought has had many other devastating effects in New Mexico.
Groundwater levels are dropping. Fertile topsoil is blowing away. And
bark beetles have killed thousands of pinons.
Aerial surveys last week put the total number of acres of dead
pinons at more than 770,000, said Terry Rogers, a U.S. Forest Service
Drought threatens 69 rare animals and 42 rare plants in the state,
said Esteban Muldavin, ecology coordinator for Natural Heritage New
Mexico at UNM's Museum of Southwestern Biology.
Even if the current drought is short-lived and doesn't turn into a
megadrought, residents of the region need to realize that drought is
normal in New Mexico, said Charlie Liles, head of the National
Weather Service's Albuquerque office.
He presented data showing that a part of New Mexico has been in
drought during 60 of the last 108 years.
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