Western rivers face pinch as another dry year takes shape

As many states in the American West face intense drought, this is shaping up to be a very difficult year for New Mexico farmers due to limited irrigation supplies, with some saying not so severe since the 1950s.

Snowpack and rainfall are below average, spring runoff is lagging behind, and New Mexico falls to dismal reservoir storage levels in about a dozen western states. Along with the Rio Grande, New Mexico’s largest reservoir stands at less than 11% of capacity, meaning that the irrigation season for farmers in the southern part of the state will start late and include only small allocations.

Further north, the manager of the central Rio Grande Conservancy district is in a position not seen in decades. There is no excess water in the reservoirs and interstate water-sharing agreements are restricting both storage and release from upstream reservoirs as New Mexico falls short of Texas dues.

Due to short supply, the district had to wait a month till April 1 to start the irrigation season. Farmers were encouraged to consider resting their fields, as demand would certainly outstrip supply, but many are used to the risks that come with planting in every season, so the whole A fraction of the acreage has fallen in the central Rio Grande Valley.

Feast or Famine – This is the way of life in the Rio Grande Basin.

The water shortage is the culmination of a sequence of unfortunate spring runoff in recent years, and not just one year, said David Gensler, the conservation district’s water operations manager.

“We continue to deal with losing hands, hydrologically speaking. We’ve played them all for what they were worth, but we just continue to make bad cards,” he said, adding that the water manager was positive. Could not do anything different to get. result

Across the state, more than half of New Mexico is battling extraordinary droughts – the worst category. A year ago, there was no exceptional or extreme drought in the state.

Utah and Arizona are worse in terms of drought severity, and Nevada is not far behind. California also appears to be in the midst of another drought.

In New Mexico’s largest city, utility officials have issued a declaration of drought. Outside water in Albuquerque is limited to twice a week, and the penalty for wasting water has doubled. The ban on water also came into force in Las Cruces on Thursday.

Water managers are warning that if spring and summer rains do not develop, it will struggle to meet irrigation demands, which are likely to dry up through the Rio Grande Albuquerque. The danger of drying up in this remote north is not new, but authorities do not have the extra water to roam like in previous years.

In southeastern New Mexico, on the Pecos River, irrigation allocation has not been so low in a century. Meanwhile, officials in the Elephant Battee Irrigation District recently asked farmers to make plans for a short year, “assuming that we all will need to make tough decisions.”

The district went through a similar season in 2013, when farmers were allocated less than a few inches and released water from a dam for only 47 days. This year the district managers are projected to run for a month.

But the hydrology of the Rio Grande can be unstable and turn on a penny, Gensler said. A well-positioned spring storm can change things or a monsoon may develop in time for the river to flow.

“As it is said, hope is not a plan,” he said. “It is entirely possible that later this spring we will hit the wall, there will be no water, and the Rio Grande will stop flowing. But until that happens, we will be humanely for the benefit of farmers, fish, Will manage the drop. Bosque, the city, the downstream water users, and this charming river we all like very much. “

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