Earth Imaging Journal: Remote Sensing, Satellite Images, Satellite Imagery
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A 1994 NASA satellite image shows Elephant Butte Reservoir at 89 percent capacity.

NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite shows Elephant Butte Reservoir at its lowest level in 40 years. By late July 2013, despite the arrival of monsoon rains, the reservoir remained virtually empty.

NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite acquired this image of the parched reservoir on July 8, 2013, when it was filled to about 3 percent of capacity.

Numbers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated the total water in storage to be 65,057 acre-feet (0.7 cubic kilometers) on July 24, 2013, about 3 percent of the reservoir’s capacity of 2.2 million acre-feet (2.7 cubic kilometers). The last time water levels were that low was 1972, after droughts in the 1950s and 1960s depleted Elephant Butte. On the other hand, the reservoir was filled nearly to capacity for most of the period between 1985 and 2000.

Drought severely strained the system in 2013. Spring runoff from snowpack in the mountains was well below average, and anemic rains throughout the beginning of the year left 80 percent of New Mexico grappling with either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought (the two most severe categories). The arrival of rains from the southwestern monsoon in early July offered a burst of moisture. But the impact on water storage at Elephant Butte was minimal, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Images courtesy of NASA.

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