Elephant Butte Reservoir, the main storage reservoir on the Rio Grande that provides irrigation and municipal water for southern New Mexico, the El Paso, and Juarez areas, starts the new year at just 13 percent capacity, down a hair from last year at this time.
Some data points as we ponder a new water year in New Mexico:
- Elephant Butte has dropped year-over-year in 11 of the last 15 years.
- In the Butte’s biggest year in the last 25, 1991-92, it gained 338,000 acre feet. It would take five consecutive such years (Phil King at New Mexico state calls ’em “cabin crushing snowpacks“) to refill the Butte.
- With the first three months of the accumulation season behind us, the current snowpack above Otowi (a key indicator for the supply in the coming year) is below average. (The cabins thus far appear safe – no crushing risk to date.)
- The Rio Grande in Albuquerque this morning was down when I went for a Saturday morning bird walk (pretty sure I saw geese wading) – 320 cubic feet per second, less than half of normal for this time of year. The low water left sandbar islands exposed, and they were kissed with last night’s light snow, and they looked lovely: