New Mexico 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in New Mexico!  This state-level forecast builds on what I shared in my 2050 forecast for the Southwestern region, which is looking pretty hairy.  Some parts of New Mexico are looking at a rough ride, I’m gonna be honest with you, but there’s a lot of regional variation across the state.  So let’s dig right in.  We’re going to talk about heat, water, and power in your state, and we’re going to get some info on Albuquerque, Taos, Roswell, Angel Fire, and Red River.  So if you wrote to me about New Mexico, I’ve got your info here.

So let’s start off by looking at what’s happened in the past (1108).  We can see here that as it’s gotten hotter across the southwest, New Mexico hasn’t really been blasted the way some parts of California and Colorado have.  However, unfortunately, there is a big projected heatup coming (1130).  This map here, it lets us look at projected changes in extreme heat, and the redder it is, the longer and hotter you should expect summers to be by 2050.  Looks like Santa Fe might be high enough up in elevation to escape the worst of it, but these longer summers do look likely to impact Albuquerque in a pretty significant way.  I had folks write in asking about Taos, Angel Fire, and Red River, you can see that those places are in that area by the Colorado border where we have less change projected.  My friends in Roswell, I’m afraid that you are looking at a big warm season increase by 2050, maybe another month and a half of extreme heat. 

Let’s look at how that will impact agricultural zones, here on 1128 we can see that like in the Colorado forecast, we’ve got conservation of the freeze in the north there, although you will see substantially milder winters.  In much of the state, though we’re looking at losing a real freeze in the winters, that hard chill.  That’s going to really have a big impact on plant communities.  You’re looking at a 2 agriculture zone shift for a fair amount of the state.  And we know that when there are changes impacting plants, that’s going to impact water. 

Plants need water, and as it gets warmer plants need more water.  So this temperature information, that gives us some crucial perspective as we look at water in New Mexico (turn off share).  We know water shortages are a big problem in the outlook for the southwest, and that’s true for New Mexico as well, but with a twist. New Mexico gets so much more of its water from groundwater than other southwestern states.  87 percent of the domestic water in New Mexico comes from groundwater.  And we know groundwater levels are dropping in the southwest as a general rule. 

In New Mexico, we’ve got three big water areas to talk about- the upper Colorado basin, which you can learn more about the relatively mild forecast around continued surface water availability in that area in last week’s Colorado forecast.  We’ve got the Gila river basin, over here on the border with Arizona.  And for most of the state, we’ve got the Rio Grande aquifer.  I feel I should point out that the Rio Grande has huge water demands, both related to surface water and groundwater.  That water needs to make it all the way through Mexico to the gulf, we have water sharing agreements with our southern neighbors.  (turn on share, show pictures, turn off share)

A lot of the concern about strain on all three of these water systems, in New Mexico, comes more from agricultural use than domestic use.  Many farmers currently use a flex system for their agricultural water, and this is particularly true, I should note, in the Gila River Basin.  Farmers shift to groundwater pumping when surface water supplies are reduced.  Pumping groundwater costs more, but it’d cost more not to get out a crop at all, right?  As the groundwater decreases, though, and as surface water decreases, it does seem like we could reach a point in much of New Mexico where there’s not much give left in the system. 

However, I don’t want to paint a hopeless picture here.  That wouldn’t be accurate, and it assumes people won’t change how they use water.  The people of New Mexico have made huge changes to their domestic water usage, and the aquifer under Albuquerque, for example, is rebounding.  That aquifer is healing because of the choices people are making. 

In New Mexico, you’re far enough on the northern end of the Rio Grande aquifer, with conservative water choices, conservative choices domestically, agriculturally, and industrially, we could see sustainable use of the groundwater.  In the upper Colorado basin, there’s continued hope for sustainable use of surface water.  And the more we can use that surface water, let the groundwater recharge, the more we’ll have that groundwater there when we need it.  That’s how Albuquerque is doing it; careful, responsible use of surface water, to recharge the aquifers.  New Mexico really does have potential for sustainable domestic water use, and it’s because of the way the people of the state have really begun to value water.  Keep it up.  It’s making a difference already.     

Talking about trends that are challenging, but maybe not so scary for New Mexico as for other parts of the southwest, let’s talk about power.  Let’s look at our map here (1125), we can see projected drops in power efficiency in New Mexico, and we do see losses, but not as big as in some states, looking at 10% losses vs 30% losses.  So there’s a need for an infrastructure tune up, and the grid here is all connected so it’s not like New Mexico can feel complacent, but it’s nice when the local infrastructure isn’t the biggest problem.  (turn off share)

There’s some cool energy stuff going on in New Mexico, too.  Those drops in generating efficiency across the southwest, they’re related to the increased heat and a need for cooling.  So I’m going to talk for just a second about New Mexico’s Afton Generating Station.  This is a natural gas combined-cycle plant, and it uses hybrid cooling.  This plant has a 60% reduction in its intensity of water use, compared to conventionally cooled plants, and in an area where water is our big limiter, I think that’s a huge deal. 

New Mexico has some energy policies in place that should help with getting ready for 2050: policies promoting modern energy sources, and decoupling energy company profits from electricity sold.  That’ll help so you don’t get into a situation like our friends in Texas did last winter, with a profit-facing utility structure.  Little kids freezing to death in Texas, we can’t forget about that, and the importance of some ethics in our utility companies.  In New Mexico, we’ve got a framework for some ethics, alongside some real positive innovation. 

So let’s wrap this up.  New Mexico, up in the north, things are looking pretty good.  Changes are mild enough you should be looking at a lot of conservation potential for familiar landscapes and species through 2050.  When you look at much of the southern and central parts of the state, though, you’re looking at big shifts, you’re losing the freeze, and you’re looking at potentially transformational change by 2050.  Very serious challenges there.

New Mexico is facing some challenges with water and power, but the state has already produced some of its own reasons for hope, some real parts of the solution to those problems.  So on the whole, your outlook for this state is super dependent on where you are.  If you’re in one of those areas projected to really heat up, and that’s a lot of the state, you better take some time to get ready for what’s coming.  You’ve got time to make plans. 

 This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.