ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – It has been nearly five years since conditions in New Mexico have been this favorable, with extreme drought now gone and nearly one-third of the state drought-free.
A combination of back-to-back spring showers, less wind and late-season snowfall have helped to ease drought conditions in most parts of the state, forecasters with the National Weather Service said Tuesday.
The welcomed moisture has helped to fill streams and reservoirs, which is good news for farmers and fish.
Along the Rio Grande, federal water managers have decided to take advantage of the natural spike in river flows to move some water from El Vado Reservoir downstream to boost spawning of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.
“From a drought standpoint, this has been pretty serious,” said Dave Campbell, a river recovery and restoration official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The spring rains are a real bonus for everybody.”
Despite releasing thousands of hatchery-raised minnows into the river each fall, the population is at its lowest level since monitoring began more than 20 years ago.
The agency is working with the federal Bureau of Reclamation and others to “do whatever can be done to preclude jeopardy of the species,” Campbell said.
For the past week, crews have been collecting eggs from the spawning and delivering them to hatcheries to be reared. If the rains continue through the fall as predicted by forecasters, those eggs that are left in the river stand a chance of surviving into next year, Campbell said.
Reservoir levels around the state have also improved, state and federal officials said. New Mexico’s largest reservoir – Elephant Butte – has about 30,000 acre-feet more than this time last year. Farmers and communities downstream depend on water that flows from the reservoir.
Recent rains have also boosted soil moisture levels, but weather service meteorologist Brian Guyer said New Mexico is still trailing the levels recorded before the multiyear drought took shape.
“When we go back 36 months, we start pulling in some extremely dry years, and we’re a little over 4 inches below normal for the state,” he said. “If you go back even farther for the 48-month period and 60-month period, we’re still very dry.”
However, the bright spot is that predictions call for above-normal chances of precipitation for New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest through the winter, Guyer said.