The Four Corners is at the epicenter of drought in the continental United States, even as conditions in other parts of the Southwest improve. “The Four Corners is getting further and further behind in precipitation,” said Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, during a briefing Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System. “That’s had a huge impact on local water supplies, particularly local municipal water supplies in the Four Corners.”
He noted, “Almost all the reservoirs through the intermountain West are below normal for where they should be this year.”
Two of the worst-hit systems, he said, are the Rio Grande and the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. But the Chama, Jemez, San Francisco and Gila rivers in New Mexico are also lower than normal for this time of year. In southern New Mexico, Elephant Butte Reservoir on the Rio Grande has bumped up a bit from earlier this fall—but is still only at about six percent capacity.
Climate change is here. It’s human-caused. And it’s going to deliver a blow to American prosperity. Already hard-hit by drought, wildfires and declining water supplies, the southwestern United States will continue to face those challenges—and new ones. That’s the message from a federal report released over the holiday weekend about climate change and its impact on the U.S. economy and infrastructure.
I’ve given a handful of presentations about water, climate change and politics in quick succession over the past few weeks. Flashing the requisite slides on the screen—a dry Rio Grande in April, woefully low reservoirs this summer and fall, graphs showing temperature increases over decades—I’ve watched your faces in the audience. I’ve seen your shock over emptying reservoirs. Grief at the photo of hollowed-out fish at the edge of the sandy channel, where they took refuge until the last puddles dried. I’ve looked at the older white men whose faces are the physical manifestation of the messages I sometimes receive: “What does she know?” And I’m still thinking about the silver-haired woman who teared up when she mentioned her brand-new grandbabies.
The next governor of New Mexico needs to understand climate change—its cause, the immediate and far-reaching impacts to our state and the need for substantive action. We’re far past a time when denial or doubt can be indulged. Today, there’s not even time for rhetoric or vague promises. In early October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that humans must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. Failing to do so means failing to hold warming below levels that will have catastrophic and irreversible impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystems.
Globally, the temperature—averaged between land and sea temperatures—has already risen 1° Celsius, or 1.8° Fahrenheit, since 1880.
The Colorado River supplies water for more than 36 million people in two countries and seven states, including New Mexico. As river flows and reservoir levels decline due to drought, warming and over-demand, states are wrangling over how to voluntarily conserve water use—before reservoir levels reach critically low levels and trigger mandatory cutbacks. New Mexico is one of the states most vulnerable to the impacts climate change is wreaking on the river. Yet, it’s unclear what the state is doing when it comes to drought management in the state and basin-wide negotiations on the Colorado. The seven states subject to the Colorado River Compact are divided into Upper Basin states—Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah—and Lower Basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California.
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Let’s face it: there’s only one story this week. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report Monday detailing the serious need for action on climate change. As we reported Wednesday, the IPCC noted that if humans don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, we will not stop warming that’s expected to have widespread and catastrophic impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystems.
National papers, magazines and television programs covered the report, which includes a summary for policymakers.
If humans don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, we will not stop warming that’s expected to have widespread and catastrophic impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystems.
That’s one of the most pointed findings in a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was tasked with studying how a 2.0° Celsius rise in global temperature will affect the planet, its ecosystems and human communities, compared with a 1.5°C temperature increase. According to the IPCC’s special report, if the Earth’s temperature increases by more than 1.5°C, the changes will be “long-lasting” and “irreversible.”
Already, the global temperature—averaged between land and sea temperatures—has risen 1° Celsius, or 1.8° Fahrenheit, since 1880. That change has contributed to sea level rise, the melting of Arctic sea ice, coral bleaching of ocean reefs and ocean acidification. In places like the American Southwest, warming is already affecting snowpack, forest dieoffs, water supplies and wildfire season. “The more warming that we cause, the broader and more intense are the impacts in general,” said University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor David Gutzler, in summing up the main message of the report.
Given the fire hose of news from Washington, D.C. every day, New Mexicans can be forgiven if they miss stories about environmental overhauls from the White House and funding mishaps in Congress. But ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to climate-changing methane emissions, less money for public lands and parks or the intergenerational impacts of mercury exposure. At NM Political Report, we’re continuing to track the federal changes that affect New Mexicans. Here are a few of the most important issues that popped up recently. Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’
At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse.
Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.
On the downstream side of Elephant Butte Dam, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees navigate a stairwell above the Rio Grande, passing scat from the ring-tailed cats that like to hang out here, and enter through a door into the 300-foot tall concrete dam. Built in the early twentieth century, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water stored for farmers in southern New Mexico, the state of Texas and Mexico. At full capacity, the reservoir is about 40 miles long and can retain more than 2,000,000 acre feet of water. Jesse Higgins, an electrician who manages the powerplant at the dam, goes first and flips on the lights, which flicker and fire up after a few minutes. Labyrinthine tunnels burrow throughout, and water drains along the sides of the narrow, elevated path.