For Crying “Drought” Loud

Team: 2

School: Cottonwood Classic Prep

Area of Science: Behavioral and Social Sciences

Interim: Problem Definition:
The Rio Grande River, which flows through New Mexico, has been facing severe drought due to climate change and needs a better distribution of water plan. In addition, New Mexico needs to have additional options for water resources. In Las Cruces specifically, the Rio Grande didn’t flow until March and was dry by September last year, completely disrupting the irrigation season which normally lasts from February to October. Since many cities in New Mexico reside along the Rio Grande River, this drought has a widespread effect on wildlife, crops, and livelihood. In Las Cruces, water is diverted and drained according to “water rights” which accounts for three-quarters of the state’s surface and groundwater even though this only makes up 2.4% of New Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product. Due to this distribution of water, not only New Mexican residents suffer by not being able to enjoy the pleasures of living by water, but wildlife and nature suffer as well. Last year, Albuquerque also experienced a dry river on a 5-mile stretch of the Rio Grande for the first time in 40 years which means that drying events are taking place earlier and farther north than normal. Although rain alleviates drought, the Rio Grande is a snow-melt driven system, and this is not enough to reverse long term drought conditions. Water resources need to be reconsidered and redistributed to prepare for the nearing endemic state of drought in the Rio Grande River.

Plan to solve the problem:
To garner accurate results, we will gather New Mexico precipitation data from the past few years from NASA Worldview. We may also factor in climate change data that suggests an increase in temperature, and incorporate predictions on to what extent increased temperatures will affect drought. We plan to use this data to demonstrate current drought and water distribution in the state of New Mexico by using a map view. We are also considering formulating an equation that could predict future precipitation levels, or researching and implementing a formula that already exists. We will showcase future drought levels on a map of New Mexico. The color yellow will symbolize low drought while red symbolizes high drought. We may use a matrix to assign small square sections of the map the precipitation data and coding a certain range of data to equal a certain color. We will create three maps predicting drought six months, one year, and five years from now. It should be noted, that the further out our time period is, the less accurate our predictions will be. In each time period, we will calculate the total amount of water available for use and thus allocate the water using different sets of priorities. For example, domestic use would be prioritized over agricultural use. We will create graphs demonstrating these priorities and reflect on the limitations and strengths of each method. This code will give us insight into managing the inevitable and drastic climate changes that we will need to adapt to. A limited availability of water will force us to become more sustainable and consider our current use of water.

We have completed research regarding the Rio Grande Drought, have investigated the Palmer Drought severity Index, found a formula and data for the PDSI, and researched possible python packages that could be of use for our project. We have been working with Flora Coleman, who is a computer engineer at Sandia Labs. She has been helping us with our Python program. We have done research on the Python reference library to familiarize ourselves with commands that can be used in our program. We have found that the Palmer Drought Severity Index is based on soil water balance equation and the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index is based on probable precipitation based on intensity and duration of drought. We plan to use a formula for Evapotranspiration in order to calculate the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration Index which uses the monthly difference between precipitation and potential evapotranspiration. We found data for the PDSI through NASA’s website and are still navigating how to read it and use it for our code. It has information on drought levels for specific areas over many years.

Expected results:
In coming months, we expect to use our research from both indexes to both computationally and visually show the future of the Rio Grande’s drought levels. In these results we expect to notice a pattern in the current drought conditions, and where this water is allocated. With the use of these drought index formulas we predict that our program can help us determine different methods of distributing water and more efficient ways to do such. Furthermore, in our program, we expect that different prioritizations of water will impact the environment around the droughts, highlighting limitations and potential innovations that can be made to address issues such as food insecurity and climate change. This will allow us to understand how the optimization of water in the Rio Grande, can allow us to investigate future droughts and their solutions.

[1] Vicente-Serrano , Sergio, and Santiago Begueria. “About the Spei.” Information SPEI, The Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index,
[2] Boller, Ryan. “Worldview: Explore Your Dynamic Planet.” NASA, NASA, 19 Dec. 2022,
[3] Earth Science Data Systems, NASA. “Agriculture and Water Resources Data Pathfinder.” NASA, NASA, 17 May 2019,
[4] Jim Robbins / Photography by Ted Wood • June 2, et al. “The Vanishing Rio Grande: Warming Takes a Toll on a Legendary River.” Yale E360,
[5] “Historical Palmer Drought Indices.” Historical Palmer Drought Indices | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI),

Team members:
Ayvree Urrea
Kiara Onomoto
School name: Multi-School CottonwoodDel Norte
Sponsoring Teachers:
Karen Glennon
Patty Meyer

Team Members:

  Ayvree Urrea
  Kiara Onomoto
  Karen Glennon

Sponsoring Teacher: Karen Glennon

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