ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — If you’ve driven past the Rio Grande river lately, you’ve probably noticed the Rio Grande looks a lot better than it did a month ago when it ran dry for the first time in 40 years. However, experts said the river is still at risk of drying up again soon.

Last month, the river by the Central Bridge in Albuquerque had mostly dried up. Tuesday, it measures up to about four feet deep in the same location.

“There was a lot of folks with a lot of questions, concerned about what’s happening in the river, and obviously, a lot of farmers wondering, ‘Man, am I gonna get water delivery, and how are my crops gonna make it,'” said Jason Casuga, CEO and Chief Engineer for the Middle Rio Grande Conservatory District (MRGCD).

Casuga explained the recent rain has really helped: “It’s providing water to the farmers by raining on their fields, gives us water to divert, and another option it’s doing for us, is it’s moving water down the Rio Grande into Elephant Butte for compact purposes.” As of Tuesday, he said they were able to divert 430 cubic feet per second of water to farmers.


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Federal measurements show the river’s flow is twice the average rate for this time of year in Albuquerque, but Casuga said old problems could still resurface. “If it doesn’t keep raining, the river is going to respond relatively quickly, and this is what it really truly means to be what we call ‘run of the river’…All of the MRGCD’s water in storage for this year is used,” Casuga stated.

If the river starts to run dry again, there’s none to release from reservoirs upstream. Experts aren’t celebrating the rains just yet. “I would say for right now, no, it’s not enough. We need years of snow and then years of good monsoon as well to keep making a difference,” Casuga said.

People like Gena Reilly who are familiar with the river agree it looks better, but there’s an undercurrent of concern. “I feel like we’re in trouble in New Mexico for moisture and drought, and it’s scary. Because we’re so lucky that we got this rain,” Reilly said.

Casuga said they’ve told farmers who are considering planting fall crops that the MRGCD is open for business. However, there’s no guarantee they will have the water to divert if things dry up again.

Despite the rain and the increased current, the water level at Elephant Butte Lake has barely changed, rising only two feet in the past week. The lake is only 4 percent full.