Water emergency in New Mexico is a bi-national problem

science | May 17, 2012 | By Kent Paterson

For the second year in a row, residents of New Mexico and neighboring Chihuahua, Mexico, find themselves in the throes of severe drought. On May 15, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez issued an emergency drought declaration, citing in part a forecast from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center that warned of persistent or intensified drought in the state.

As an example of deepening water woes, Martinez noted the water shortage in the northern town of Las Vegas. Martinez’s office stated that 2011 was the second driest year ever recorded in New Mexico.

“In addition to the work we’re doing at the state level to assist communities facing serious drought conditions, I’m hopeful this declaration will assist them in securing any available federal funding as well,” Martinez said.

Martinez’s counterpart in Chihuahua, Governor Cesar Duarte, also recently reached out to his own federal government for help in coping with drought. Last month, Duarte requested about $200 million from the Calderon administration for water infrastructure projects, emergency food aid and agricultural subsidies to help rural communities under environmental stress. According to Duarte, natural water supplies for 300 communities in the Sierra Tarahumara region have dried up and stopped giving the essential ingredient of life.

“According to the National Water Commission, Chihuahua is the state confronting the severest drought in the country..,” Duarte said.

Under the circumstances, rain normally might be welcome relief in New Mexico and Chihuahua. But unseasonal storms accompanied by high winds lashed through the region last week and left minor flooding, some power outages and a tree crashed into a house in Albuquerque. In Socorro County, New Mexico, a highly unusual tornado startled the small town of Magdalena. “And we were so scared we had to run to the closet,” resident Monique Baca was quoted; no significant damages were immediately reported from the twister.

Across the border in Chihuahua, the precipitation sowed a path of destruction through far-flung farming communities, where golf ball-sized hail was reported. At least $40 million in estimated losses were racked up for cotton, chile, wheat, corn and pecan farms.

The municipalities and communities most affected included Galeana, Ascension, Buenaventura, LeBaron, Flores Magon, and Villa Ahumada. The Pecan Producers Association estimated a 100 percent loss in some of the state’s orchards, and growers took measures to rehabilitate trees so production could resume within two years.

As reports were still trickling in from remote areas, the Chihuahua State Secretariat for Rural Development reported damages to more than 3,000 acres of jalapeno chile peppers, nearly 2,000 acres of oats and more than 2,000 acres of wheat. Approximately 23,400 acres planted in cotton were judged a complete loss. In total, 30,000 acres or more of cropland and orchards could have been impacted.

If drought and extreme weather aren’t enough, Chihuahua has also counted at least 723 forest fires since the beginning of the year.

In New Mexico, Governor Martinez’s drought declaration re-convened the New Mexico Drought Task Force. Led by the State Engineer, the task force’s mission is to make recommendations to the Governor on “ways the state can prepare for and mitigate the problems that occur in New Mexico due to persistent drought conditions.” The task force was ordered to meet in open public meetings at least once each quarter.

The New Mexico Drought Declaration cautioned that it might take “several years of higher than normal precipitation and snow pack for current reservoir storage to recover,” as well as a “considerable amount of precipitation and snow melt run off” for the restoration of decent soil moisture and plant vegetation conditions.


Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University.



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