Recent storms make dent in N.M. drought

ALBUQUERQUE – Much of New Mexico remains beset by drought, but the recent heavy rains brought some relief – especially in the driest areas.

The National Weather Service said this week that 75 percent of the state remains under moderate to severe drought conditions, and New Mexico is still behind a 36-month average for rain.

“It’s a lot better than where we were,” said Shawn Bennett of the Weather Service in Albuquerque.

Despite the persistent dry conditions, the record rains dramatically transformed the drought picture in New Mexico, particularly in areas that were experiencing “exceptional” drought – one the worst drought categories – before the monsoon season, Bennett said.

According to maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor, all areas of exceptional drought and much of the extreme drought in the state disappeared from August to September.

Thunderstorms earlier this month caused massive flooding across the state, with officials estimating the cost of damage in the tens of millions of dollars.

Those rains and changing drought conditions helped restore once-dry rivers and fill some reservoirs to capacity, said Raymond Abeyta of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That should help farmers for next season, he said.

Elephant Butte, the Rio Grande’s largest water storage reservoir, for example, gained more than 50,000 acre feet of water in the storms. The reservoir holds 2 million acre feet of water and rose from 4.4 percent to 5.9 percent full.

In fact, the Pecos River especially benefited from the storms, and the Carlsbad Irrigation District announced it was releasing water to Texas. Pecos reservoir storage for area farmers went from 11 percent full to 92 percent in less than two weeks.

Some Carlsbad-area farmers also will get an additional four-tenths of an acre-foot per acre.

“It’s amazing,” Abeyta said. “Now we’re trying to make room.”