Climate change threatens the availability of water in the Colorado River basin and water managers need to take steps now to prepare, the director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico John Fleck and Brad Udall, the senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, argue in a recent editorial. The two scientists published the editorial in last Friday’s edition of the research journal Science. “We share the concern that the decision makers are not doing what we think needs to be done to fully incorporate the risks of climate change in the decisions that have to be made over the next few years on the Colorado River,” Fleck said in an interview with NM Political Report. The editorial starts by highlighting a hydrologist’s analysis in 1920 that found the Colorado River could not support future water demands. “No one heeded his warning,” Fleck and Udall wrote.
The Colorado River supplies water to seven states, including New Mexico, before crossing the border into Mexico. Then—theoretically, nowadays—it reaches the Sea of Cortez. Demands from cities and farms, along with climate change, strain the river and affect its flows. Now, a new study shows that even though annual precipitation increased slightly between 1916 and 2014, Colorado River flows declined by 16.5 percent during that same time period. That’s thanks, in large part, to “unprecedented basin-wide warming.” Warming reduces snowpack and increases the amount of water plants demand.
In an exclusive story published Thursday evening, Michael Coleman reported that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed an oil and gas lease sale in northwestern New Mexico. According to the story: Zinke told the Journal in an exclusive interview Thursday afternoon that “there have been some questions raised” so the Bureau of Land Management will hold off on the sale of about 25 parcels on 4,434 acres within Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan Counties in northwestern New Mexico. Mark Oswald reported in the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that more than 20 acequia and community ditch groups want to overturn a 2013 court decision that approved an agreement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico settled a decades-old water rights claim on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River that flows through northwestern New Mexico. Their filing, by Albuquerque attorney Victor Marshall, seeks to toss out the judge’s ruling because he lived and worked on the Navajo Nation in the 1970s. It’s a shocking enough motion that former newspaperman, and current UNM Water Resources Department Director, John Fleck weighed in the issue on his blog this week.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many in the U.S. are dealing with flooding from massive hurricanes while New Mexico is celebrating moderate relief from a drought that has lasted 18 years. For the first time since the federal Drought Monitor began operations in January 2000, New Mexico is completely free of drought or unusually dry conditions. University of New Mexico Director of Water Resources John Fleck said it’s good news short-term, but the reprieve is mostly due to a generous monsoon season and may not last. “It’s a lot warmer, and so for a given amount of rain and snow that falls, less of that ends up in the river,” Fleck explained. “We’re clearly seeing a decline in the water supply as a result of climate change in New Mexico – there’s no question about that.”
Most New Mexicans know climate change is happening and understand it is human-caused. According to recently-released data, New Mexicans are also more likely than people in about half the country to talk not just about the weather, but climate. This week, The New York Times published six maps showing how adult Americans think about climate change and regulations on carbon emissions. The maps were based on data from researchers at Yale University. According to their nationwide survey, 70 percent of Americans think global warming is happening.
May rains have come through New Mexico, making the landscape a little more green than New Mexicans are used to. May of 2015 is one of the top-ten wettest months in Albuquerque history when it comes to precipitation. Thanks in large part to this, the May drought outlook looks better than it has in years. The May 19 update to the Drought Monitor from The National Drought Mitigation Center found that less than half of the state was in a drought. This was the first time since 2011 that this could be said.