Drought persisted in parts of the Great Plains and intensified in the Southwest during May, which was an unusually hot month for the country. Those hot temperatures stressed wheat and pastures and generally dried the landscape. In the drier parts of the nation, notably in the Southwest, counties and municipalities enacted water restrictions and burn bans in preparation for a dry summer.
In May, the NDMC added 152 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, with 35 for New Mexico, 31 for Colorado and 30 for Texas, cataloguing instances water shortages, poor crop prognoses and challenges for livestock producers.
Smaller wheat crop expected in southern Plains
The wheat crop was expected to be the smallest in more than 10 years as drought gripped the southern Plains, damaging crops, and a global surplus kept prices down. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the 2018 wheat crop was forecast to be 1.19 billion bushels, 6 percent lower than in 2017. Drought and a late freeze damaged Oklahoma’s wheat crop, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service to forecast a harvest of 52 million bushels, 47 percent lower than the 98.6 million bushels harvested in 2017.
State, national wheat crops down, by Enid News & Eagle (Oklahoma), May 11, 2018
Oklahoma wheat producers expecting modest returns after a tough year, by Leilana McKindra, Southwest Farm Press, June 6, 2018
Fire restrictions implemented in Southwest
The arid Southwest appeared to be headed toward a difficult summer, given that two-thirds of the region was already in drought as summer began. Some areas were experiencing near-record and record dryness. With the dryness came heightened fire danger, numerous fire restrictions and forest closures throughout the Southwest. Several forests in Arizona, including the Tonto and Coconino national forests, were closed to visitors. In New Mexico, the Carson National Forest, Santa Fe National Forest and other national forests, grasslands and monuments were also closed. Fire restrictions in southern Colorado were widespread in many counties and public lands where drought conditions were worst.
Experts: ‘Alarming’ drought conditions hit US Southwest, by Susan Montoya Brown, The Associated Press, May 23, 2018
Area closures on Tonto National Forest begin Wednesday, Eastern Arizona Courier (Safford, Arizona), May 21, 2018
Large swaths of national forest near Flagstaff to close due to fire danger starting Wednesday, by Emery Cowan, Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Arizona) May 21, 2018
Given dry forecast, Carson forest faces more fire rules, by Sarah Halasz Graham, Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico), May 21, 2018
Fire bans enacted across Southern Colorado, by The Pueblo Chieftain (Colorado), May 16, 2018
Colorado River Basin experiencing continued drought
After a winter of below-average snowpack and drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico faced a 52 percent chance that they may receive less water from the Colorado River in 2020, because of ongoing drought, as the level of Lake Mead continued to drop. The chances of a shortfall rise to 64 percent in 2021 and 68 percent in 2022. Lake Powell was expected to receive just 43 percent of its typical inflow in 2018.
The flow of the Colorado River peaked weeks early just before mid-May and lower than normal in Colorado at the Utah state line. The flow was about 8,500 cubic feet per second, ranking in the five lowest flows in 85 years of record. With river flows being so low, water restrictions were rampant in the southern part of the state.
The dry winter also left New Mexico’s water supplies in bad shape with reservoir levels falling low enough to activate the Rio Grande Compact provision, which prohibited the storage of additional water in upstream reservoirs. The total amount of water stored in Elephant Butte and Caballo fell to less than 400,000 acre-feet on May 20. Water from Elephant Butte and Caballo is used for irrigation in southern New Mexico and West Texas, industrial and municipal use in El Paso and to supply water to Mexico.
In eastern New Mexico, streamflow in the Pecos River as measured by the U.S. Geographical Survey found that the river was flowing at 21.5 cubic feet per second, about a sixteenth of the mean of 339 cfs for May 15. Farther downstream at Anton Chico, no flow was recorded on the same day. The low water levels prompted New Mexico Game & Fish to stock fewer fish on the Pecos River and take the remaining fish elsewhere, such as to the San Juan River and Heron, Storrie, Eagle Nest and El Vado lakes.
Mexico, 2 US states could see Colorado River cutback in 2020, by Dan Elliot, The Associated Press, May 9, 2018
River's peak more of a bump, by Gary Harmon, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Colorado), May 12, 2018
NM drought worsening despite recent rainfall, by Ollie Reed Jr., ABQJournal Online (Albuquerque, New Mexico), May 25, 2018
‘This is really bad:’ Flows in Pecos River are tiny, by T.S. Last, Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), May 18, 2018
Texas agriculture, water supplies affected by drought
Drought in Texas was worsening, with rangelands and pastures deteriorating and cattle sales occurring in the Panhandle and South Texas toward the end of May. Crops and rangelands were not faring well with the early heat and need for irrigation. Some were selling cattle early, given the pasture condition and waning water supplies.
Declining aquifer levels led the Edwards Aquifer Authority to announce Stage 1 pumping restrictions after the 10-day average level of an index well fell below the minimum 660 feet trigger. Some cities in South Texas began restricting water use, with permit holders in Bexar, Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, Hays and Medina counties being told to limit their pumping. Outdoor watering restrictions began in San Antonio and San Marcos.
Texas Crop and Weather Report – June 5, 2018, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), June 5, 2018
San Antonio among cities with drought water use restrictions, by Associated Press, May 22, 2018
For more details, see the Drought Impact Reporter