New research suggests that the snowpack-driven water supplies in New Mexico may be in jeopardy, as a sharp decrease in snowfall and rainfall may pose dangers to water supplies, not only in New Mexico, but in other Western states as well.
The study took a look at more than 400 river basins in the Northern Hemisphere, determining how they may meet the demand for water in the coming century. Several variables, such as population, how water demands are met as of the present, and climate models, were taken into account, with the water demand variable considering if supplies come largely from rainfall or melted snow. As it turned out, almost a fourth of those river basins have a good chance – about 67 percent or more – of decreased snow supply.
Thirty-two of those basins, including the Rio Grande and Colorado River, which supply water to New Mexico, were singled out as particularly sensitive to snowmelt changes. And looking at the study’s results, there is a particularly strong chance of a decline in water availability in the Rio Grande Basin in the spring and summer – a chance estimated at 95 to 100 percent.
“Decreases in snow resource potential could come from decreases in snow, decreases in rainfall, or decreases in both snowfall and rainfall,” said the study’s lead author, Justin Mankin, in an email to New Mexico in Depth. He added that spring and summer snowmelt in the Rio Grande may decrease in parallel to a decline in spring and summer rain.
Mankin, however, told New Mexico in Depth that two uncertainties weren’t factored into the study. These uncertainties include natural climate variations and the human variable; he stressed that water supply shortages can potentially be controlled by human-driven tools like conservation and efficiency. “Humans have a great deal of agency in this picture of water availability moving forward,” Mankin explained. “We have a really long history of providing water to people during periods of atmospheric shortfall.”