NM Climate: Even hotter? Even drier?

Marissa Lopez, Author

We all know New Mexico is a hot and dry place, but why is it getting even hotter and drier? All of that comes into play with climate change.

Climate change, caused by the overall warming of the Earth, is characterized by long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity is a major driver of climate change. Other possible problems include changes in our sun’s energy and volcanic eruptions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “New Mexico’s climate is getting hotter and drier, powered by regional and global warming.” Precipitation patterns are changing, and with that comes more intense droughts. 

Compared to ten years ago, New Mexico weather has gotten more severe. The EPA reports that “Our climate is changing because the earth is warming. People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s.” 

The EPA also reports, “Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms, which increases humidity, average rainfall, and the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many places—but contributes to drought in others.” This obviously impacts New Mexico heavily. 

In years when the monsoon season is not as productive, lakes and rivers are running dry, which is a huge problem for our drinking water. The EPA reports, “The changing climate is likely to increase the need for water but reduce the supply. Warmer temperatures increase the rate at which water evaporates (or transpires) into the air from soils, plants, and surface waters.” 

The city of Las Vegas, N.M., is supposed to run out of water this fall because of the largest wildfire in state history. The city gets its water mainly from a reservoir that is fed by the Gallinas River. However, the river has been contaminated by ash and debris from the fire. The town’s backup sources for water have also been contaminated by runoff from the fire.

Water restrictions have been imposed on the people living in Las Vegas. They are only able to use 44 gallons of water per day. By contrast, in Santa Fe, residents tend to use 59 gallons per day per person, and New Mexico residents in general use 90 gallons of water per day in and around their home, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Also according to NEEF, “Throughout all of New Mexico we use about 186 million gallons of water [that] are withdrawn and delivered everyday for domestic use.” 

The limits on water are being seen everywhere in Las Vegas. Restaurants only serve water if asked by a customer, and some people are showering using buckets. 

It’s only a matter of time till all New Mexico residents start to be affected by how low our water supply is. By the time New Mexicans realize the stakes, writes Lindsay Fendtand and Annabella Farmer for Searchlight New Mexico, “it might be too late.”


(All photos for this story taken by Carlos Muller in May 2022 in Sapello, N.M., northwest of Las Vegas, N.M. Used with permission.)