Cities and farmers along New Mexico's stretch of the Rio Grande can expect a full allotment of water this year since snowpack in the mountains that feed the critical artery were above average this winter, federal officials said Thursday.
During a packed briefing in Albuquerque, the Bureau of Reclamation outlined its expectations for water supplies and management along the river system that flows through some of the state's most populated areas.
The forecast is based on snowpack, soil moisture and climate predictions, but officials acknowledged it's still a best-guess and that things can always change.
Bureau hydrologist Ed Kandl said temperatures are expected to be above average this summer across New Mexico and there are equal chances that precipitation will be average. Still, he said snowpack along the Colorado-New Mexico state line and the resulting runoff will bolster flows along the Rio Chama and Rio Grande.
"This year looks to be the best since 2008, which was the last good year," he said.
At a monitoring site in Conejos County, Colorado, there's as much snow as there has been since the station was established in the 1980s. Kandl said there's still a lot of snow at the site.
However, the Sangre del Cristos near Santa Fe and other mountain ranges farther south have fallen below average thanks to hot, dry weather in March. A flash drought speeded up melting and dried out the soil in lower elevations.
In the Pecos River Basin, one of the key snowpack gauges has been below average all season.
Kandl pulled up a map of the western United States that detailed the results of the winter storm track over the Sierras and into northern Utah, where streamflow forecasts were 180 percent of average. From there, levels begin to drop off.
"It's a very fine line between feast and famine," he said, pointing to the sites in New Mexico that were below average. "A matter of 50 to 100 miles made all the difference in the world."
Despite the positive streamflow predictions along the Rio Grande, nearly half of the state is classified as abnormally dry on the most recent federal drought map . Still, that's a vast improvement over last year at this same time, when nearly every square mile of New Mexico was dealing with some level of dryness or drought.
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