Trickles of the Rio Grande

Like their counterparts in New Mexico and the Juarez Valley of Mexico, irrigators in El Paso’s Lower Valley will likely get only a trickle of water from the Rio Grande this year. Jesus Reyes, El Paso Water Improvement District No. 1(EPWID) general manager, told farmers in his jurisdiction this week that only one delivery is scheduled for users of Rio Grande water in 2013. District members with more than two acres of land will get their water on June 7, while those with less than two acres, known as “small tracts,” should see their delivery between June 19 and 30, Reyes said.

Reyes put thin numbers to the water budget facing farmers because of the bitter drought afflicting the region. While EPIWD members received the equivalent of 240,000 acre-feet of water spread out over four deliveries in 2012, irrigators will get only 50,000 acre-feet of water in the abbreviated delivery season planned for this year. Two years ago, EPIWD users received 10 water deliveries.

Like the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) upstream in New Mexico, irrigation water for El Paso’s Lower Valley is dependent on the northern New Mexico and Colorado snowpack that melts into the Rio Grande and eventually is channeled into New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir near Truth or Consequences.

Reyes said a better snowpack runoff or ample rainfall could change the water outlook and yield more supplies. But recent reports from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Weather Service painted a bleak picture of the potential seasonal run-off and possible spring precipitation.

Lower El Paso Valley irrigators were not pleased by the news of one, austere Rio Grande water delivery.

“What can one do?” shrugged resident  Fabiola Campos. “There is nobody to blame since this is all the result of the little rain that’s been registered in the area,”

In neighboring New Mexico, the EBID also expects to deliver a very reduced supply of irrigation water in June.

“The water supply situation for 2013 is quite dire. The snowpack has peaked and begun to melt off, and we only reached about 60 percent of average,” the EBID stated in mid-April. “Disappointing snowpack from October through March, coupled with the previous two years of critical drought leave us with little snow to melt, and a very dry watershed that will take up much of the potential runoff…”

According to the Las Cruces-based agency, Rio Grande water releases to the EBID, El Paso Valley and Juarez Valley are projected to be the lowest ever in the nearly one hundred years of the Rio Grande Project, one of the Bureau of Reclamation’s signature works that harnessed a wild river and channeled once-reliable irrigation supplies to the Paso del Norte. The lack of river water means irrigators in the arid region will once again have to turn to expensive groundwater pumping.

A diminishing river water supply has touched off litigation between New Mexico and Texas over the allotment of the Rio Grande and use of its groundwater.
Texas has taken the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the high court is expected to decide whether to take up the controversy sometime in 2013.

The EBID has scheduled a series of growers’ meetings in southern New Mexico next week to discuss the Rio Grande water crisis. For details on the important meetings set for Hatch, Las Cruces and Anthony from April 29 to May 1, interested persons can refer to the EBID website at: http://www.ebid-nm.org/.

Additional sources: El Diario de El Paso, April 25, 2013. Article by Jose Santos.  El Paso Times, April 22, 2013. Editorial. Albuquerque Journal, March 24, 2013. Article by John Fleck.

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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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