New water year off to an 'excellent' beginning

By Cody Hooks
Posted 1/31/19

What a difference a year can make.Last winter, with spotty snow across the mountains of New Mexico, the snowpack stood at a measly 5 percent of "normal," or median …

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New water year off to an 'excellent' beginning


What a difference a year can make.

Last winter, with spotty snow across the mountains of New Mexico, the snowpack stood at a measly 5 percent of "normal," or median snow accumulation over the past 30 years. As of early January, the statewide snowpack was at 91 percent of normal.

"We are off to an excellent start," read the New Mexico Basin Outlook Report, published by the Natural Resources Conservation Service Jan. 8.

December brought colder, more winterlike weather to the state as well as enough precipitation to make up for long- and short-term water deficits, especially in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, according to the report.

"Whether we are in good shape for the [water year] is very subjective. It is still very early," said Chris Romero, snow survey hydrological technician with the NRCS and author of the report.

"The trend over the past several years has been to receive a majority of our snowfall in December and January. Early snows brought statewide averages up in most basins throughout January. However, I am watching the El Nino indicators dwindle as we move further into our peak snow season.

"Unless we continue to receive copious amounts of snow in the higher elevations throughout the entire winter, we are going to have a water deficit to deal with," he said.

"Small reductions" to the drought came in certain areas, yet some parts of the state, like the Four Corners, are in far worse condition.

Here is some of the key information in the rest of that report that directly impacts Northern New Mexico.

Río Grande Basin snowpack at 85 percent of normal -- The snowpack, or all the layers of snow that have fallen so far this year, stands at 85 percent of the long-term normal conditions in the Río Grande basin, which spans the central part of the state. This is compared to just 10 percent of the average precipitation at this time last year.

Sangre de Cristo Mountains snow-water equivalent at 108 percent of normal -- Not all snow is created equal. Some is dry and has little water. Other types of snow are dense and wet, meaning more water in the streams and rivers when the melting season happens in April and May. The amount of water locked in the snowpack is measured as the snow-water equivalent, or SWE. According to the basin report, the central mountain chain of New Mexico is already above the normal SWE for the year.

Eagle Nest Lake at 42 percent of capacity -- The lake in Eagle Nest was holding about 54 percent of its total capacity at this time last year. The lower amount of reservoir water is consistent across the state; statewide, reservoir storage is at 41 percent, compared to 70 percent last year. The drop comes from the drought that crept over New Mexico from November 2017 through the fall of 2018.


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