ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – After a shutdown last year because of the pandemic, businesses near Elephant Butte were hoping for a big bounce back this year. The people will come, as they always do but there may not be much water for them to recreate or fish in. Elephant Butte is known for drawing huge crowds.

Last year was a struggle because of closures from the pandemic. This year will likely look a little different. Right now, Elephant Butte is rising as spring runoff comes off the Rio Grande but when irrigation starts, the level of the lake will drop about 50 feet. The Butte is 11% full, which’s down from 26% last year. Twenty years ago, the lake was almost full.

“The water stored at Elephant Butte is to irrigate farms in southern New Mexico and west Texas. The water belongs to those farmers,” said Mary Carlson, Public Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Locals say losing that much water is devastating for local businesses on and off the water. “We already had a terrible season last year with all of the restrictions, now you have this. They may go find something else to do and all of those dollars, I just mentioned, benefit the state of New Mexico,” said Paul Scott, a consultant at Marina Del Sur.

The Bureau of Reclamation says the severe drought has put a strain on water sources statewide but believes there will be enough water to enjoy a partial season at the Butte. “It may not last as far into the summer as we would like to see. But there’s water there right now and folks can get out there and boat and fish,” said Carlson.

Locals believe there has to be a way to compromise, that won’t subtract from the tourism they depend on. “If there was a minimum pool that allowed these marinas and facilities to be sustainable and they operate from that number, as zero instead of just trying to take everything they can, you’d never hear from us and the people wouldn’t be affected,” said Scott.

The irrigation release will start at the beginning of May through most of June. Elephant Butte Lake will have some of its lowest water levels in July. Locals are hoping for a wet monsoon season to help save the summer.