The state’s reservoirs have done their job to help water users survive record drought in 2018. Now they are almost totally dry, and tensions are building over the year ahead. ‘Climate change is really happening,’ one water official says. Elephant Butte Reservoir, the largest in New Mexico, photographed on Sept. 10, 2018, when it was at a mere 3.7 percent of capacity. Right now, New Mexico’s largest reservoir is at about three percent capacity, with just 62,573 acre feet of water in storage as of September 20 .
Elephant Butte Reservoir’s low levels offer a glimpse of the past, as well as insight into the future. Over the past few decades, southwestern states like New Mexico have on average experienced warmer temperatures, earlier springs and less snowpack in the mountains. And it’s a trend that’s predicted to continue.
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“There was no spring runoff this year. We started this year at basically the point we left off at last year,” says Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Elephant Butte Dam, just north of the town of Truth or Consequences. The federal agency runs the Rio Grande Project, which stores water that legally must be delivered downstream to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the state of Texas and Mexico.
Drought has moved around the U.S. Southwest since the late 1990s, and last winter’s dismal snowpack broke records in the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Without runoff this spring, by February reservoir levels around the state – including at […]