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Mudcracks cover dry areas in the Bosque.

Mudcracks cover dry areas in the Bosque.

Climate Change: Southwest becoming dangerously dry

This is the first in a series for the Daily Lobo about the fourth executive summary report on climate change and its effects on the lives of people of the United States. The focus for these articles will be limited to the Southwest.

Water, food and human health are becoming less secure in the Southwest as the slow-burning effects of climate change continues to warm the area, and exacerbate drought conditions according to The Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The report recommended that if significant steps were not taken, the American economy could be reduced by up to ten percent by the end of the twenty-first century. The NCA surveyed academic articles, news stories across the U.S. and broke their analysis into geographic regions.

The Southwest in the report is comprised of California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

The report said that one the biggest challenges in the Southwest is water and how agriculture and city populations will be able to “balanc(e) declining supplies with greater demand.”

Rising temperatures have worsened droughts in the Southwest region, especially in the Colorado River Basin, according to the report. According to a 2012 study, the Colorado River and tributaries directly provide water for more than 40 million people.

A drought affecting the vital area has reduced the volume of water of the two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — by over half.

New Mexico has experienced both warming temperatures and increased water usage from previous years.

Laura Paskus for NM Political Report has followed the unprecedented low levels of water this year, attributed to the lowest recorded snowpack ever recorded. The state’s largest river, the Rio Grande was completely dry south of Socorro in April. Elephant Butte Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, which provides water also to Texas, is only at three percent capacity.

And while the Camp Fire has burned 240 square miles and was both the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, they’re not the only state at risk.

New Mexico’s largest fire — the Las Conchas fire— occurred in 2011. It burned 161 square miles near Los Alamos, or an area the size of the Island of Barbados.

The NCA report highlighted a California policy that limited water use and banned practices like watering after a rainfall. Water usage was reduced by 25 percent from 2014 to 2017.

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Drought and high temperatures also affect food production. 10,000 jobs were lost because of a California drought while $900 million was lost in uncultivated land, according to analysis by University of California, Davis.

“Food production depends on reliable surface and groundwater supplies,” the report said.

Farmers in New Mexico’s Gila river basin have switched to groundwater pumping when surface water supplies dwindle, leaving them more vulnerable as plants are unable to change with the climate.

Higher temperatures have also lead to an increase in heat-associated deaths and illnesses.

In 2006, a heat wave in California was responsible for 600 deaths, according to an article published in the International Journal of Public Health.

The National Climate Assessment report is conducted by 13 national agencies and mandated by Congress and released by the White House.

Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at or on Twitter at @Just516garc.

Danielle Prokop is a senior writer for the Daily Lobo. Full disclosure: she also contributes to New Mexico Political Report as a freelance reproductive rights writer. She can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @ProkopDani.

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