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Expecting a wet spring, and water level trends continue

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

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The annual meeting of the Estancia Basin Resource Association, or EBRA, was held over the weekend, and featured updates on precipitation outlooks and well monitoring in the Basin.

In addition to electing officers, the group was updated by Kerry Jones, a longtime East Mountain resident and meteorologist for the National Weather Service, and David Chace, of HydroResolutions.

Jones talked about the difference between climate and weather, saying, "Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get," and "Climate trains the boxer, weather throws the punches."

Current weather patterns in the Estancia Valley and East Mountains are due to the El Nino conditions in the South Pacific, which has to do with which parts of the ocean are warm, and when.

"Can we explain the variability, can we explain the up and down?" Jones said. "What we've learned about the El Nino pattern... we may not be able to explain it fully but we can do it a lot better than we did 20 years ago."

He said meteorologists used to think of what was going on in the ocean and what was happening in the atmosphere as two distinct things, but added, "It's a coupled system—what I mean by that is it's an ocean-atmosphere coupling. We've since learned it's one and the same thing."

La Nina conditions occur when the same area in the Pacific Ocean is cooler than average. "It's only been since the 80s that we connected what goes on in the tropical Pacific and what goes on in our neck of the woods," Jones said.

In a nutshell, El Nino means wetter conditions for New Mexico, and La Nina means dryer conditions. The current pattern is El Nino, and Jones said he expects to see wetter conditions through the spring. "We're bullish on later winter and early spring, even April— that's a good trend," Jones said, adding, "We're in a pattern that we have not been in for about four years. That's favorable."

When Jones shifted his topic to talk about the ongoing drought in the area, however, he said a number of years with snowy winters are what will be needed to lift the area out of the extreme drought conditions that have gripped the Southwest for several years.

"We're nowhere near out of a drought even if we have a good winter, and spring," he said. "There's a long ways to go.... We had some good monsoon activity in the past couple of summers, and a good wet monsoon last year so it's improved, that's the good news. Longterm we need several good winters."

Jones is also looking for volunteers to help monitor precipitation though a program called Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network For details visit cocorahs.org.

Volunteers purchase a rain gauge and report precipitation daily, improving the long term data, and "helping to improve our drought monitoring," Jones explained.

Art Swenka, past president of the EBRA board, spoke about a plan by the Forest Service that he said would double the amount of land designated as wilderness in the Manzano Mountains. "Expanding the wilderness would be very detrimental to our watershed," Swenka said, because no mechanized equipment is allowed in a wilderness area.

That means that even in the event of fire, mechanized equipment can't be used, and thinning would have to be done by hand, and wood culled would also have to be removed by hand. Swenka said that means "as in the current wilderness area, it goes untreated."

Swenka said that the Mid-Region Council of Government's water resource board "has agreed to get behind opposing it," along with the Claunch-Pinto Soil and Water Conservation District. A water use plan by Soil and Water Conservation Districts "opposes wilderness generally," he added.

Chace gave a short report on well monitoring in the Estancia Basin, paid for by the Estancia Basin Water Planning Committee.

At its peak, HydroResolutions had a monitoring network of about 25 wells in the Basin. Failing instrumentation due to age had reduced that number significantly, but Chace reported that last month, new instruments were added to bring the current total of wells monitored continuously to 10 wells. About another dozen are monitored manually, once a quarter.

The data show that in the center of the Basin, water levels continue to drop about 2 to 5 feet a year. "As you move away from the center of the Basin that declining trend decreases and in a few places we're even seeing increases."

A well at the foot of South Mountain has seen increasing water levels, and others near the edge of the Basin have stablized since monitoring began, Chace said. "Common wisdom suggests that most of the recharge occurs in the mountains—there's more precipitation in the mountains, and it's farther away from where all the pumping is, in the center of the Basin," he said. "You would expect to see that the water levels are more stable or in some areas, actually increasing."



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Original Publication Date: January 14, 2015



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