Virga beau­ti­ful but omi­nous

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In the arid South­west, we are fa­mous for our amaz­ing vis­tas and our sum­mer­time virga – the rain that never falls. Virga makes for vivid sky for­ma­tions: it is as if we are be­ing teased with rain but never quite re­ceive. This year it seems we are blessed and cursed with abun­dant virga for­ma­tions. Skies at sun­set are of­ten filled with red down­ward streaks of rain or dur­ing the day dark clouds on the hori­zon with down­ward streaks that never touch the ground. On our hot mid­sum­mer days, th­ese nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring for­ma­tions feel as if they are rob­bing us of the much-needed mois­ture to cool evenings, clean the air, and pro­vide much-needed wa­ter for our land­scapes.

It seems rain is more an il­lu­sion than a re­al­ity th­ese days. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor (drought­mon­i­tor.unl. edu) about 98 per­cent of New Mex­ico re­mains in a drought con­di­tion, with 91 per­cent in se­vere drought. It is not just the South­west. Other re­gions of the coun­try and the­world are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the warm­est and dri­est pe­ri­ods in re­cent his­tory. Wa­ter, and es­pe­cially rain, are crit­i­cal to our way of life. “Wa­ter scarcity, ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate change, could cost some re­gions up to 6% of theirGDP, spur mi­gra­tion, and spark con­flict,” ac­cord­ing to The­World Bank study High and Dry: Cli­mate Change, Wa­ter, and the Econ­omy.

Mother Na­ture’s rains seem to al­ways be on the dis­tant hori­zon – never quite grant­ing us her gift. Our ace­quias used to be the blood­lines that al­lowed wa­ter to flow through our neigh­bor­hoods and to the fields now long gone. We de­pend on the lo­cal rains, pumped wa­ter, or wa­ter im­ported from Colorado via the Rio Grande and the San Juan/Chama di­ver­sion project. With­out this lat­ter source we would de­pend greatly on pump­ing of wa­ter out our aquifer.

Hope­fully 2017 is the year we be­gin to take ac­tion to pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties, im­prov­ing our wa­ter se­cu­rity through cre­at­ing a re­gional wa­ter board with the

PHOTO BY DOUG PUSHARD

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