Water officials: Management is critical to protect endangered species, farmers

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Water in the Rio Grande is running low, and officials say there is a real chance the water supply could run out. Now, water managers are trying to figure out how to stretch their resources to help farmers and an endangered species. 

Water managers say they have to balance their obligation to protect the silvery minnow with the thousands of acres of farmland in need of irrigation.

“How do we keep that population alive and well this year?” said Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Hydrologist David Gensler. 

This year, the snowpack is basically non-existent. 

“It’s really one of the worst on record and we’re already seen the river drying so its going to be tough on everybody,” said Reclamation Bureau Water Operations Supervisor Carolyn Donnelly. 

So, the water already in the Rio Grande, along with what was stored away last year, has got to go along way — sustaining both an endangered fish species and farmland. 

“We are just trying to stretch our resources,” Donnelly said. 

In the early 2000s, water from the Rio Grande was diverted from farmers in order to create habitat for the silvery minnow.

“We have some obligations and we work with our federal partners to make sure we meet those obligations… It’s going to be a difficult year for the fish. As well as the farmers,” Gensler said. 

Gensler says they have 60,000 acres of farmland that they deliver water throughout the middle valley. 

“Late in the season we could run into some risk for our irrigators, particularly those that have investments in crops, chile, corn, things like that,” Gensler said. 

Conservancy district hydrologists said right now they have 100,000 acre feet of water stored away and it’s critical it’s managed correctly.

“There is a real possibility that the conservancy district and probably other operators on the river could exhaust their supply this year,” Gensler said. 

Water officials say summer rain is crucial, but they are expecting a shorter irrigation season for farmers. 

“I wish we had more,” Gensler said. 

Officials say the conservancy district determines the need, and the reclamation bureau releases water at their call. 

Right now, the the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is working with wildlife managers to rescue the fish in the already dried out areas.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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