Water experts painted a grim picture of New Mexico’s water future during a panel discussion focused on water policy and management. The panel was hosted by Retake Democracy, an advocacy group based in Santa Fe.
Dave Gutzler, a professor at UNM’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department, emphasized that climate change is here, and is already impacting the state’s precipitation patterns.
“Anyone who’s lived here for a while knows that variability is endemic to New Mexico,” Gutzler said. “But the climate is now changing in ways that go beyond natural variability.”
Gutzler said climate change will have three major impacts to water resources in the state.
“One of them is that the temperature is going up. It’s already going up rapidly,” he said, pointing to data that shows average temperatures in the state have already risen 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.
“That is causing rapid decline in snowpack, rapid increase in evaporation rates, [and] a decrease in groundwater recharge,” he said. “Just the temperature change itself will have an effect on a lot of resources.”
Gutzler said the climate will also become more “energetic” and variable.
“That means the rainfall will tend to be delivered in more intense doses, and the dry spells will also be more intense,” he said.
And thirdly, he said, the weather will permanently move north.
“We expect the winter storm track to shift northward and take the precipitation— rain and snow—with it,” he said.