Linking a Divided Continent
An exploration of the geographic relationship between the Rio Grande and Colorado River.
Lower Rio Grande, New Mexico
As a result of regional and global warming trends, New Mexico’s climate is getting hotter and drier. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, climate change will result in “earlier springs, hotter summers, and less predictable winters” in the region.
Elephant Butte Reservoir is an artificial water reservoir located along the Rio Grande. In 2013, the reservoir held only 3 percent of its maximum capacity, the lowest level ever recorded. This drought not only had permanent effects on farming and agriculture, but also exhausted the water supply of entire villages. Magdalena, a village 100 miles north from the reservoir, saw its wells run dry, forcing its residents to rely on bottled water for several weeks.
Experts predict that New Mexico’s drought risk will become ever more acute in the coming decades. With less precipitation and more consecutive dry days, the changing climate will have devastating effects on the multibillion-dollar agricultural sector and the region’s forest ecosystems. Today, various alternatives to make communities more resilient to climate impacts are being discussed.
This feature focuses on water scarcity in the region by examining Elephant Butte Reservoir, its ongoing shrinkage, and the efforts taken at federal, state, and local levels to prepare for the impacts of a hotter and drier climate. —Ane González Lara, Diverse Peoples, Arid Landscapes, and the Built Environment report editor