Officials: Irrigation season a month behind

New Mexico News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Lower water levels in the Rio Grande are exposing sandbars in Albuquerque and threatening a shorter growing season for farmers. Officials have a plan to stretch the water flow as much as possible.

The Bureau of Reclamation said the below-average snowpack in the mountains and the ongoing drought both contribute to the low water levels, a very similar scene to 2020. “We’re in really bad shape. So much of the state [is] in the worst conditions, exceptional drought, so we’re hurting here. We’re going to be hurting on the Pecos and we’ll just have to see,” Hydrologist Ed Kandl explained. “Will monsoon save us or something else save us or come through to help us?”

Kandl calls this an extremely challenging year but said luckily, the state has multiple sources of groundwater, plus surface water from the Rio Grande and water from the Colorado Basin through the San Juan-Chama Project. He said it all helps guarantee the water supply for Albuquerque.

Water is also now flowing from the Rio Grande into acequias across the city as of April 1. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has been pushing water out to ditches and scheduling irrigation deliveries for farmers in just the past couple of weeks.

Officials say irrigation season is about a month behind schedule because of the need to send water to Elephant Butte, which is at extremely low levels. “Where we’re at right now is we’re trying to optimize as much water down to Elephant Butte while the runoff is happening in order to chip away at that debt,” Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District CEO Mike Hamman stated. “[It’s] what they call a compact debit problem that has accrued due to dry conditions over the last couple years.”

Kandl said Elephant Butte could drop fifty feet to just 3% of capacity between now and the peak of irrigation season. The Bureau of Reclamation added that it’s unclear just yet if it will be leasing water from the Water Authority like last year to help keep the Rio Grande’s water flowing.

The Bureau of Reclamation just yesterday released its annual operating plan for the Rio Grande. Read it here.

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