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National

New Mexico Rejoices As Years-Long Drought Finally Eases

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now a change of pace from our summer of coverage of drought and wildfires in the Western U.S. We're going to New Mexico where the latest stats from the National Weather Service show that the state is no longer in the grips of a severe drought and more than half of the state isn't in a drought at all. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The ten-year drought in New Mexico had been so brutal that being here today is breathtaking. The slopes of the Sandia Mountains are bright green. The arroyos that catch water from the monsoons are caked with red mud. And the Rio Grande, the life line for farmers here, is flowing steadily through Albuquerque's South Valley.

PRISCILLA SANCHEZ: I love all the green around us, you know, it's about time.

SIEGLER: Priscilla Sanchez is admiring the lush plants that have come back around the riverbed while her great-granddaughter feeds the geese.

SANCHEZ: The rain - I like the rain. I don't like the humidity, but I like the rain.

SIEGLER: For the record, this isn't exactly Florida, but the Southwest monsoon has delivered a torrent this summer. And since April, parts of the state have seen rainfall totals from 200 to 300 percent above average. And there really hasn't even been a wildfire season.

DAWN FOY: Let's go, good girl.

SIEGLER: Outside Santa Fe, the Sangre de Christo Mountains are crawling with campers and hikers like Dawn Foy, who says these forests are coming back to life.

FOY: And as you can tell, you're batting the bugs away, so the greenness has just been amazing and the wildflowers and the number of lizards and the number of birds. It's just been an amazing year for us.

SIEGLER: Foy, who works for the National Park Service, says she can't recall a single fire around here this year. Locals had endured smoke-choked summer after summer.

FOY: And, you know, places that we think of as wet, the Pacific Northwest is burning, which is, you know, very unusual, but we've just kind of been a little pocket of respite here.

SIEGLER: So how long will it last? That's a question University of New Mexico climatologist David Gutzler is getting all the time.

DAVID GUTZLER: There's a very high likelihood that El Nino will persist through the winter, and certainly here in the Southwest in terms of replenishing water supplies, that's what we're rooting for.

SIEGLER: Gutzler says New Mexico's largest snow-fed reservoirs are still in pretty rough shape. And a big winter would be huge for farmers.

GUTZLER: It's important for us to think of this rainy spell as being perhaps a short-term abatement of a long-term water resource challenge that hasn't gone away.

SIEGLER: And in that sense, New Mexico right now is actually no different than the rest of the West. But after so many dry years in a row, New Mexicans are ready to celebrate, even if it's a short party. On the Rio Grande bike trail through Albuquerque, Mike Cohen says he's thrilled to ride by all the cottonwoods and plants that are recovering.

MIKE COHEN: I remarked the other day, it really rained hard Friday night and I was out on the bicycle on Saturday. And I came home and I told my wife, I said, you can't believe how green and how succulent they look, too.

SIEGLER: Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Albuquerque. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.