the problem with “drought”

The new monthly U.S. drought outlook, out this morning, has good news for New Mexico:

February 2015 drought outlook

February 2015 drought outlook

But wait, I thought that idiot Fleck told us in Sunday’s paper that water managers were bracing for another dry year in New Mexico. What gives?


The question of who might be hurt and who will avoid the pain illustrates the complex nature of New Mexico water, where drought is no one big thing, but rather a series of little things, depending on the needs of each group of water users.

If you’re irrigating from a ditch off of Embudo Creek, collecting Sangre de Cristo snowmelt, you’ve got a decent shot at a reasonable runoff this year. If you depend on river runoff from Colorado, like my friend Steve Harris, who runs a river rafting operation in northern New Mexico? See that brown blob extending north of the border atop the headwaters of the Rio Grande? Yeah, not so good, sorry Steve. Steve lives in essentially the same place as the Embudo Creek irrigators, but his water needs are completely different.

If you’re the city of Albuquerque, you’ve got plenty in storage and groundwater to fall back on. You’ll be fine, regardless of the map color on top of you. If you’re growing onions in the Hatch Valley of southern New Mexico, the color of the map where you live also doesn’t matter, but in the other direction. No matter how green it gets, an empty Elephant Butte Reservoir and lousy snowpack to the north means another lousy irrigation season unless we get some monster snows between now and spring. Local rains in Albuquerque and Hatch can help at the margins, but are not determinative of local “drought” conditions.