What is Drought?
A drought is a prolonged period of shortages in the water supply, whether rain or snow fall, surface water, or groundwater. Drought represents a change in distribution of water in the natural water cycle. Drought can result in a shortage of water for basic human needs, agriculture, industry, and to sustain the environment and animals and plants living in it. It impacts wildlands such as forests and grasslands, aquifers (groundwater), and surface water sources.
How long does drought last?
A drought can last for months or years or may be declared after as few as 15 days. What is considered a drought depends on the typical climate of the region.
Drought in New Mexico
New Mexico has the lowest water to land ratio of all 50 states. Water scarcity and shortage is an issue with which many New Mexicans are familiar. Drought can heavily affect the 121,697 square miles and the people who live in NM.
Drought occurrence in the desert southwest may have a different appearance and subsequently different health consequences compared to drought in a historically wetter state.
Drought and Health
Drought can strongly affect our lives because water is such an important part of our daily activities. We need water to grow the food we eat, for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. When we don't have enough water for these activities because of a drought, people's health and wellbeing will be affected. Possible health implications of drought include:
- Reduced drinking water quality and quantity and stress on water infrastructure systems
- Impacts on air quality
- Increase in dust and allergen exposure
- Increase in number of wildfires and smoke exposure
- Decreased food production leading to malnutrition
- Changes in vector (insect) borne disease patterns
- Stress or anxiety related to potential economic losses caused by drought.
Drought preparedness planning and response involves many entities including: public health professionals and stakeholders, water resource agencies, water utilities, land owners and community members, local and state governments, emergency managers, and others. Learn about community planning for drought and mitigating health effects during drought conditions in the Resources and Links section below.
Drought and Private Wells
Community water systems have drought plans and management strategies (access to alternative safe water resources) to enable them to maintain supply for their customers during drought conditions. Private well owners who maintain their own water supply do not have these resources or infrastructure. Twenty percent of New Mexicans rely on private well water as their primary drinking water source. Wells whose depth to water is near the water table, are at increased risk of running dry during droughts. During drought, when not being replenished by precipitation, the water table falls and may fall below the level of a well completion depth. This can be made worse when groundwater pumping, or mining, increases. If you live in a drought prone area and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should drought occur:
- Maintaining your private well will help it withstand the stress of drought.
- Be familiar with, and document well components should they need replacement.
- Drought can increase the concentration of groundwater constituents (chemicals) and change how groundwater and surface water interact. To determine if any changes in water quality have occurred test your well water regularly.
- Practice water conservation. Some suggestions include:
- Check for and repair leaking plumbing fixtures.
- Install water saving plumbing fixtures.
- Install drip irrigation and water-saving landscaping (xeriscaping)
- Install rain sensors or a rainwater harvesting system
- Spread out your water use over the day (dishwasher, washing machine, shower).
- Wash full loads in the dishwasher and the washing machine.
- Water lawns and plants during evening or early morning to reduce evaporation.
What to do if your well is affected by drought
This will depend on the conditions of the drought including severity (length) of the drought, if nearby wells are affected, if the well gone dry during past droughts.
Options may include: deepening the well, drilling a new well, or finding an alternate safe source of water such as water hauling. Consult a qualified well contractor to determine which solution may be most appropriate for your situation.
Drought and groundwater quality
During a drought, well water supplied by groundwater may contain higher levels of constituents present in the local geologic formation, which may degrade water quality. Drought may also change groundwater-surface water interactions which can result in changes in water quality. The best way to determine if any changes in water quality have occurred is to have your well water tested. Learn more about private wells testing on the Private Wells Testing page link below.