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Drought tightens grip as federal managers scramble to find water for New Mexico silvery minnow

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — The first two months of 2014 marked the driest start to any year on record for New Mexico, and forecasters with the National Weather Service said Friday that things haven't improved.

Senior meteorologist Chuck Jones told state and federal officials during a monthly drought briefing that New Mexico received less than one-third of its normal snow and rain over the winter, and that the lack of snowpack in the mountains is prompting concerns among water managers.

"It's terrible. We're looking at the snowpack levels and they're just blowing away," said Raymond Abeyta with the Bureau of Reclamation. "What has us concerned is the soil moisture levels."

The latest drought map shows conditions have worsened in New Mexico over the past three months, with areas covered by severe drought conditions or worse nearly doubling since December.

While record rains helped some areas last fall, officials said the Rio Grande Basin didn't fare as well.

PHOTO: In this March 3, 2014 image, tumbleweeds crowd the edge of the Rio Grande as it flows through Albuquerque, N.M. Members of the Rio Grande Compact Commission met Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Santa Fe for their annual meeting to discuss management of the river. Federal experts testified that water managers in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas will face challenges this year due to the effects of drought on the river. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
In this March 3, 2014 image, tumbleweeds crowd the edge of the Rio Grande as it flows through Albuquerque, N.M. Members of the Rio Grande Compact Commission met Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Santa Fe for their annual meeting to discuss management of the river. Federal experts testified that water managers in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas will face challenges this year due to the effects of drought on the river. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Advisers with the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which oversees a water-sharing agreement between New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, said Thursday that there was almost no native Rio Grande water in storage above Elephant Butte Reservoir.

They also said water supplies flowing by measuring gauges in Colorado and New Mexico have been significantly below long-term averages for more than a decade.

Federal wildlife managers are scrambling to find enough water to keep the river flowing this summer and asked commission members for their help. They say strategically timed flows will be critical for the endangered silvery minnow's spawning.

More than 2 million silvery minnows have been released in the Middle Rio Grande since 2002, but officials say their numbers are near the lowest since monitoring began more than 20 years ago.

Surveys in October indicate a poor survival rate among the hatchery-raised fish that are being released.


Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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