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New Mexico's Pecos River Hit Hard By Drought

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Close to three dozen miles of the Pecos River have dried up, shorelines at state parks up and down the waterway are expanding, and threatened fish have to be relocated.

New Mexico and federal officials on Tuesday pointed to what's happening on the Pecos River as another example of fallout from two years of drought.

The southeastern corner of the state has been hit the hardest. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say many areas have had only a couple of inches of rain since the beginning of the year, and monsoon season has been spotty.

"Although there has been some decent precipitation in some areas of the state, it has not been anything close to being able to overcome the deficits we have rung up," said Ed Polasko of the weather service.

One of New Mexico's longest rivers, the Pecos stretches from mountain wilderness northeast of Santa Fe down through the plains and into West Texas.

Parts of the river went dry in 2011, but officials say this summer is worse due to compounding conditions. So far, around 35 miles have dried up, double last year's amount, and reservoirs along the river have been reduced to just a few thousand acre-feet of water.

A team of biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation will be collecting threatened Pecos bluntnose shiner from the river this week so they can be moved to a wetter area upstream.

This marks a first for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it comes to the shiner, said biologist Steve Davenport.

In previous years, the fish were collected in the spring and held at a hatchery through the dry months. That couldn't happen this year because the hatchery was full of fish pulled from areas around the Southwest that were ravaged by wildfire.

It's too early to say what effect the river's drying will have on the fish population, but Davenport said a decline is likely.

State Parks Director Tommy Mutz said some of the lakes along the Pecos River have been forced to close their boat ramps due to low levels and an emergency salvage order was issued allowing anglers to catch more fish at Santa Rosa Lake to avoid spoilage as the level drops.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge outside of Roswell is one of the few places along the Pecos River that remains wet, but springs there are low due to increased ground water pumping by farmers who are trying to make up for the loss of river water for a second year.

Still, manager Floyd Truetken said the refuge will have its annual dragonfly festival, which draws thousands of people. The refuge is home to one of the most diverse populations of dragonflies and damselflies in North America.

Truetken said the dry conditions are making for a tough time.

"It's just a continuation of last summer," he said. "We are not out of the drought."

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

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