The Natural Resources Conservation Service released its monthly streamflow forecast for the Rio Grande Basin this week predicting Rio Grande flows (at the Otowi gauge near Santa Fe) will be 64 percent of average this year. This is a dramatic decrease in predicted flows from the 90 percent forecast in January. The news is even worse in southern New Mexico and Texas where flows are expected to be just 50 percent of average.
Snowpack hovered around average throughout the Rio Grande Basin in January but in February it declined to 72 percent of average in the headwaters in Colorado and 87 percent of average in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Abnormally dry to severe drought conditions persist in the Rio Grande Basin from around Albuquerque north through the headwaters. In part the drought is a result of a lackluster monsoon in 2019, which was the third hottest and ninth driest monsoon season in the Southwest in a 125 year old record.
“The Rio Grande is severely over allocated and below average flows are bad news for the health of the river,” said Galen Hecht, Rio Grande Campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “We need to brace for a dry year and plan for how to ensure both communities and the environment can remain healthy when flows are diminished. Climate change is drying rivers in the Southwest. We need to brace for aridification, which means making hard choices and ultimately using less water.”
Read the press release.