ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – They were expecting the water levels at Elephant Butte to be historically bleak this year. While there’s still more beach than anyone would like to see at the lake, the outlook is much better than it was a few months ago.
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“Projections early this summer for Elephant Butte were that it was going to get really low in August,” said Mary Carlson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque. “What we’ve really seen happen this summer is the rains have materialized in a big way.”
While runoff from the summer rains is always the main factor, a late release from Cochiti also gave Elephant Butte a tiny boost as more water made its way down the Rio Grande. However, the Bureau of Reclamation says help also came south of the Butte where farmers didn’t need as much help this year.
“Rain in Las Cruces and the El Paso areas has really reduced the demand from the reservoir,” said Carlson. “These farmers that were going to be calling for their water, haven’t called for as much water as expected.”
Originally, Elephant Butte’s levels were expected to drop to less than one percent of its capacity later this year. Then, the rain kept coming.
“Elephant Butte will be ending the season, holding about four percent of its capacity,” said Carlson. “It might not seem like much but compared to what we were expecting earlier this summer without the rain, that is a good pool of water.”
Businesses in the area have also noticed the lake holding strong. Marina Del Sur says while there’s more beach at the Butte, they’ll take this boost in water as a win to wrap up the summer season.
“We’ve had a terrific year. The water stayed up. It never dropped as low as the original forecast was,” said Neal Brown, president of Lago Rico, Inc. which operates the marina. “We’re really grateful that we’ve had a good year. We can’t take too many hits like we had last year with the closures.”
Still, it’s another year of water levels dropping. Elephant Butte Lake is about four feet lower than it was a year ago when it was six percent full. Now, the Bureau of Reclamation says we just need many more rainy years to start filling the lake back up.
“That, by no means, means the drought is over. We’re looking at 20 years of drought to get us into this situation,” said Carlson. “It would take a lot more moisture, particularly, in the way of snowmelt, to replenish our reservoirs.”
There’s still some more hope for the levels to get another boost. Monsoon season technically has a few weeks to go.