Higher than last year
Thanks to a good snowpack in the mountains up north, the Rio Grande has seen high flows this year. This May, the river in Albuquerque has been flowing at a rate nearly five times as fast as last year.
That bodes good news for farmers and water users along the Middle Rio Grande. Lately, they’ve been concerned about water management and access. But just because there’s now water in the river doesn’t mean all of it will go to New Mexico farmers.
New Mexico has to give a certain portion of Rio Grande water to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact. And when there’s more water, more of it has to make it to New Mexico’s neighbors.
“In a typical year, we have to deliver about 57% of the water that comes into the Middle Rio Grande down to Elephant Butte,” says Anne Marken, the water operations manager at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. “In high-flow years, that that obligation is a little bit higher.”
If New Mexico doesn’t meet its obligation, it builds a water debt. And Marken says that once the debt rises, the conservancy district has to put tighter constraints on farmers.
“That’s one of the big reasons that the [conservancy] district sees it as really important to make sure we are making Rio Grande compact deliveries,” Marken says. And meeting the delivery obligations also ensures that farmers in southern New Mexico get water they need, Marken adds.
On top of water obligations, the conservancy district is limited in its ability to store water. Basically, if the conservancy district pulls water from the river, but farmers don’t use all of it, there’s a problem.
“If we over-divert, and farmers don’t take that water, there’s not a lot of places for us to put it,” Marken says. “So, we have to be a little bit conservative on how much we’re diverting.”
And El Vado Dam, west of Tierra Amarilla in Norther New Mexico, is undergoing rehab. So, that means New Mexico can’t store water from the Rio Chama there until at least 2025, Merken says.
Despite limits, farmers are getting water
While there are limits to how much of the current high water flows New Mexico can keep, Marken says farmers in the Middle Rio Grande are getting enough water for their needs.
“I think through the Middle Rio Grande, we’re going to see pretty elevated flows, at least through the middle of July,” Marken says. And with water from the San Juan-Chama diversion (an underground pipeline that brings water from other rivers into the Rio Grande), and a positive outlook on monsoon season, “I think farmers can expect to get the water that they need fairly reliably, at least into through July, hopefully in August and beyond,” Marken adds.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty good season for farmers this year,” Marken says.