ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Recent rain may not be enough to keep New Mexico moist and to ensure the Rio Grande flows throughout the rest of the year. With drought conditions in the forecast, some water officials are preparing in case the Middle Rio Grande dries once again.
Throughout much of New Mexico, drought conditions are expected to persist or even get worse over the next three months. That’s according to the Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.
With that outlook, water managers at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District say it’s possible that the Rio Grande might go dry near Albuquerque.
“The middle valley enjoyed an abundant spring runoff, but that’s largely come to an end,” says Jason Casuga, the chief executive officer of the conservancy district. “To meet irrigation demands, we’ve been having to release supplemental water from our San Juan-Chama Project. . . that’s also coming to an end.”
Since mid-July, the conservancy district has been supplementing the river’s natural flow with water from the San Juan-Chama Project. They say about 40% of the current river-sourced irrigation water in the middle Rio Grande area comes from the San Juan-Chama Project. But the conservancy district expects San Juan-Chama water to run out before the end of August.
The conservancy district is limited in how much water it can store and how much water it can release. In the past, the El Vado Dam near Chama, New Mexico was used to store excess water to release in times like these. But that dam is out of service for the next few years as it undergoes repairs. On top of that, Casuga says this summer’s extreme heat has added to the lack of water.
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Rio Grande flow data from near Alameda Boulevard shows declines over the last week.
“The heat plays a significant role in the amount of water needed to get to agricultural crops,” Casuga says. “The hotter it is, the faster that water and the moisture in the ground is going to go [to evaporation], and the hotter it is, the more often the plants are going to need water.”
Casuga says the conservancy district’s water predictions didn’t foresee the middle Rio Grande drying up this quickly. The original prediction was that the Rio Grande would need supplemental water from the San Juan-Chama Project starting in August. But the reality is those deliveries had to start a month earlier. “The really hot July is what really kind of changed that equation,” he says.
Right now, water is still flowing in the river. Casuga is warning that without rain, we could see another dry Rio Grande near Albuquerque like we did in 2022. But with enough rain, the situation could turn around.
“We really need [the rain] to kick up in order to make a difference on propping up the river and helping out with irrigation,” Casuga says. “Pray for rain. We need it.”
As Casuga works to try to get farmers the water they need, other partners such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have been coordinating releases of supplemental water from Cochiti Reservoir and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is organizing efforts to rescue endangered silvery minnows as the river begins to dry.