Oppressive dry spells lasting at least two decades have gripped the Southwest before, but scientists said future megadroughts would be hotter and more severe, putting a strain on water resources.
Oppressive dry spells lasting at least two decades have gripped the Southwest before, but scientists said future megadroughts would be hotter and more severe, putting a strain on water resources.

Farmers in southern New Mexico are bracing for what could be another dry year.

There's not much water in Elephant Butte and other key reservoirs upstream, meaning any new water would have to come from snowmelt runoff next spring in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado's Rocky Mountains, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Snowmelt isn't looking promising either, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts warm weather and low precipitation over the next 90 days in those areas.

"It's very dismal," said Gary Esslinger, manager for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which delivers Rio Grande water in Dona Ana County. "Looking at the forecast, it's not looking good. They're saying warmer temperatures and less snowpack."

Esslinger said there has been light snowfall in southern Colorado but that there still needs to be more in southern cities. Snowfall in the mountains near Denver drains into basins other than the Rio Grande.

Elephant Butte Lake, the largest of the reservoirs upstream from Dona Ana County, last week held about 151,300 acre-feet of water, just 7 percent of its capacity. A year ago it was 21 percent full. Caballo Lake, another nearby reservoir, is only 8 percent full.

Las Cruces pecan farmer Phil Arnold said the status of the river water supply is "definitely a concern right now from this point going forward." He noted that storms in recent months helped, but the monsoon season didn't yield much water.

"What's happened is, where we used to have plenty of water to go around, that resource is being stretched to take care of everybody's needs up and down (the river)," he said.

Farmers in Dona Ana County were allocated about 13 acre-inches per-acre of water from the Rio Grande in 2016. The district considers a full allotment to be 3 acre-feet but that hasn't happened in years. Water district officials say it's unlikely to occur next year.

Las Cruces-area farmer Dick Salopek said many farmers have stopped growing on some acreage to deal with the river-water drought.

"You pray every day it's going to be snowing," he said.