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Drought dries New Mexico's largest rivers

US Bureau of Reclamation

UPDATED 08-22-12, 8:00 PM:

Additional rains have reconnected flows within the stretch of the Pecos River that includes habitat for the Pecos bluntnose shiner. Biologists do not plan to conduct salvage work this week. About 30 miles of the river still remain dry.


This has been a dry year in New Mexico. Statewide, we’ve received only half the precipitation of average, and most of eastern New Mexico is experiencing what the National Weather Service calls “extreme drought.”

That means this has been a tough summer for New Mexico’s two largest rivers.

Since mid-June, two stretches of the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque have gone dry. Right now, a total of about 50 miles are dry.

Meanwhile, about 30 miles of the Pecos River have dried between the city of Roswell and Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  According to online stream gages, the drying first began in July.

To try and keep water between the banks of the Pecos, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been buying and leasing water rights from willing sellers.

But the drought this year has been too much for the agency to keep up with, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Gary Dean.

Conditions haven’t been this dry on the Pecos since 1989, he says, when the agency conducted a dam safety test of Brantley Dam and had to temporarily hold back the river’s flows.

Now, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are preparing to rescue rare fish—the pecos bluntnose shiner-- from the drying riverbed.

According to Stephen Davenport, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, a rainstorm on Tuesday night caused a temporary spike in flows throughout the fish’s habitat, but biologist will likely head out to the Pecos River for salvage work later this week.

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