ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico saw little measureable moisture during the first three months of the year, and with less water coursing through the state's rivers, farmers are beginning to feel the pinch again this year as they scramble to find ways of watering tens of thousands of acres of cropland.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service and state and federal officials addressed the lack of moisture during a regular drought meeting Wednesday in Albuquerque.
This is nothing new for a state that has seen more dry starts than wet ones for the last 12 years. So far this year, forecasters said New Mexico has seen less than half of its normal precipitation. Last year, it was even worse.
"Only 2010 and 2005 were wet starts to the first three months of the calendar year, so basically we should be getting used to this dry start thing," said meteorologist Ed Polasko.
New Mexico and Texas, two of the hardest hit states last year, are now not alone in 2012. National drought maps show dry conditions creeping across a bigger portion of the West, as well as parts of the upper Midwest and the entire East Coast.
By mid-April, not one speck of land in New Mexico had escaped categorization as either abnormally or exceptionally dry - or somewhere in between.
The dry conditions have resulted in less water in the Rio Grande and other rivers, leaving farmers to pump more groundwater to make up the difference.
A new report from the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer shows what water managers call "a dramatic increase" in groundwater pumping by irrigators in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Meter records show 280,000 acre-feet were pumped for irrigation in 2011. That's twice as much as either of the two previous years, the office said. One acre-foot is enough to cover 1 acre of land 1 foot deep, or enough to meet the annual needs of about two households.
The records also show municipalities and domestic water users pumped 39,000 acre-feet, while industrial and commercial operations pumped about 7,000 acre-feet.
Interstate Stream Commission Director Estevan Lopez said he's concerned that less surface water in the canals means more pressure on the aquifer.
"The result is a double hit to New Mexico's aquifer," he said.
In the Middle Rio Grande, the irrigation district is already warning farmers of a possible shortage. Officials are blaming the meager snowpack, a lack of rain and evaporation that has cost the Rio Grande almost one third of its flow this year.
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