As I mentioned, this is the driest start to a water year in a century in Albuquerque. The preliminary Jan. 1 runoff forecast from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service bears this out. The forecast, based on snow measurements, is stark. NRCS has 40 years of snow records, and for many sites, this is the driest start to a water year on record. In other words, it’s not just down here in the city. It’s up in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, where snowpack feeds New Mexico’s rivers.
With months of snow season yet to come, this should be considered very preliminary in nature. But the statistical probabilities suggest that, for many of New Mexico’s rivers, the chances of a record low year are higher than the chances of an average year.
Some numbers (all of these are median forecast numbers):
- Rio Grande near Lobatos, near the Colorado-New Mexico border: 15 percent of average
- Embudo Creek at Dixon: 16 percent of average
- Rio Grande at Embudo:
- Rio Grande at Otowi: 24 percent of average
- Rio Grande at San Marcial, at the head of Elephant Butte reservoir: median forecast of essentially nothing, which is not plausible but the snowpack is so lousy that the model kinda breaks here
- Pecos at Santa Rosa: 18 percent of average
A few things to remember.
First, it could snow a lot. These numbers could come up. The forecasts for the next month are “meh“, but this could happen.
Second, it could get worse. See previous link to “meh” forecast for the next month, and also recall that both the recent weather and the long term climate have trended on the warm side, which means that for a given amount of snow, paltry as it is, less water is ending up in our rivers.
Third, as I have written before, this is happening in the context of some very important changes in the approach to water management in New Mexico over the last few decades, in terms of conservation and diversification of supply, that leave our human water systems in a very resilient position. That resilience is likely to be very seriously tested this year.