Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.


The raindrops that are falling in New Mexico are a mere drop in the bucket to what is needed to replenish the diminished aquifers, rivers and depleted reservoirs around the state. The acequias are running dry and rivers that have delivered water for decades are not being recharged. While it’s pretty normal for dry climates to go through severe droughts and then bounce out of them with really wet seasons, it will take a strong monsoon season to pull our Enchanted Land out of this drought.

More than 77 percent of New Mexico is still in severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center where pasture yield is limited and producers sell their livestock, irrigated crops are stunted and dryland crops are brown and the abundance and magnitude of wildfires may increase; 46.8 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought categorized as having high danger of wildfires, irrigation allotments decreasing and native vegetation is dying out; 24.7 of the state is experiencing exceptional drought with no surface water left for agriculture, and major rivers have run dry.

Years of warming temperatures and drought have brought wildfires, wells drying up, vegetation drying up, a shorter irrigation time and farmers being paid by the state not to grow food. This past winter’s snowpack was a huge disappointment and it means our reservoirs are not going to be recharged and are well below what was needed for a productive irrigation season. Elephant Butte Lake is expected to be at 1 percent of its capacity at the end of the irrigation season and any business that deals in water sports are looking at a potentially dismal future of trying to attract tourists to dry lakes and rivers.

Last year there was no monsoon, and temps were 107 in the Gila River Valley in the southern part of the state. They experienced a few days of torrential rain for several hours, but no monsoons. This year a halfhearted monsoon season started on July 4th weekend and it is continuing in the south. Monsoon season appears to be building its gusto down south as the National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings for Socorro and Catron counties on July 15. A 40-55 percent chance of rain is forecasted in Grant County everyday into next week.

Isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms are forecasted across western and northern New Mexico. Brief downpours, gusty winds to 45 mph and cloud-to-ground lightning will accompany any storms. It remains to be seen if large long downpours of monsoon weather will materialize daily. It will take a lot of precipitation to improve the abnormally dry conditions that have existed in the state for years.

Even if it’s just a “dent in the drought monsoon”, we’ll take it.