CIBOLA COUNTY – Area residents need to be prepared for well below average water availability this year.
This warning was part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Feb. 1 report.
“We sample three sites in the Zuni Mountains,” explained NRCS Grants Office District Conservationist Richard Montoya. “We check the Post Office Flats, Rice Lake, and Ojo Redondo locations during the last week of January, February, and March each year to predict snowmelt volumes.”
Montoya has been with the Grants’ office for 21 years and pointed out that the monitoring process provides data that helps officials predict the Bluewater Lake spring run-off volume. The NRCS provides the information to area residents and agencies that use the lake as an irrigation source.
The Cibola County Commission has responded to the area’s on-going drought conditions and recently adopted a water conservation ordinance but ranchers and farmers are exempted from the restrictions, according the NRCS officials.
“Stream-flow forecasts issued by the USDA for the Zuni/Bluewater Basins range from 92 percent of normal for the Zuni River above Black Rock Reservoir to 23 percent of normal for the Bluewater Lake Inflow,” according to Wayne Sleep, NRCS snow survey hydrologic technician.
He pointed out that New Mexico suffered from dryer than normal conditions statewide during October and November and this could affect the spring run-off because the unusually dry soil is likely to absorb some of the snowmelt.
January precipitation was well below normal statewide with many basins receiving less than 85 percent while some basins received only 55 percent of the usual amounts, according to the NRCS report.
Most of the annual stream-flow in the western United States originates as snowfall that has accumulated in the mountains during the winter and early spring. As the snowpack accumulates, hydrologists estimate the runoff that will occur. These forecasts are a joint effort between NRCS hydrologists and the National Weather Service.
The Rio Nutria near Ramah and the Ramah Reservoir Inflow are both forecast to be about 35 percent of normal.
The Feb. 1 runoff forecasts are reflecting this moisture deficit. Many meteorological models indicate that the dry pattern will probably continue to dominate through the spring, which will not be favorable for building snowpack, according to Sleep. If these models are correct and New Mexico remains out of the active storm track, snowpack numbers and runoff forecasts could both continue to fall through the remaining snow season, he predicted.
January precipitation came in at 82 percent of normal. Year-to-date precipitation is still well below normal at 68 percent. Storage in Bluewater Lake is down from a year ago, at 3,300 acre-feet, as compared to 4,600 acre-feet last year. This equates to 56 percent of the average storage of 5,900 acre-feet for this time, according to the hydrological report.
“The drought conditions that we are seeing now are consistent with climate change projections for this region in winter, but so far are not beyond the range of conditions expected in natural climate variability,” concluded University of Arizona School of Geography and Development assistant professor Connie A. Woodhouse in a recent report that documented four centuries of climate through the use of tree-ring records.
Call the NRCS Grants Field Office, 287-4045, Ext. 3, or the NRCS Snow Survey Program, 1-505-761-4431, for more information.