Water woes for conservancy district
Irrigators throughout Valencia County should brace themselves for a rough end to this year’s irrigation season.
According to a recent press release from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, it is now facing a possible water shortage for the 2012 season.
Spring runoff has been less than expected, and almost one-third of this year’s flow in the Rio Grande has been lost to evaporation, earlier than normal irrigation by upstream users and a lack of spring rains.
The implications for the district and its irrigators are that it may be forced to start releasing stored water at El Vado Reservoir earlier than anticipated.
The MRGCD board of directors has instructed district personnel to work closely with irrigators and to assist them with water conservation measures, the release said
Belen Division Manager Eric Zamora said after looking at the current water supply numbers, the division has implemented limited irrigation rotations and is coordinating with the ditch riders to shift the water from ditch to ditch.
“I think we should be fine for summer. Most irrigators won’t notice anything,” Zamora said. “It will be a lot of effort on our part to shift the water. Instead of spreading it out through out the valley, it will be delivered to targeted areas.”
Having taken the position of division manager at the beginning of the month, Zamora said it was his understanding that irrigation scheduling in the Belen division has always been fairly strict.
“If it gets really bad toward the end summer, we may have to shift water from one side of the river to the other, and shut off one side at a time for a couple weeks,” he said. “For now, we are pretty much handling rotation the same as always.”
Zamora said the board heard a draft rotation policy on Monday, but it hasn’t been approved yet. He said it would be the guiding document throughout the district for water delivery priority.
If water is released from El Vado, Zamora said the amount would be dependent on how much more of the irrigation season was left.
He said the district is estimating that by the third week in August, the irrigation water supply will cease to be diverted and be solely dependent on the river flows at that time.
Zamora said the larger issues will be next year.
“If we have a similar year, we’ll really be hurting,” he said.
The district also has to deal with requirements under the Rio Grande Compact, which governs water usage and storage. This compact does not allow for additional storage of water at El Vado by the district when Elephant Butte falls below 400,000 acre feet. Elephant Butte is currently below the 200,000 acre feet level.
Socorro Division Manager Johnny Mounyo said he has gotten several calls from irrigators wanting to know what’s going on.
“It’s pretty much what they said. It’s going to be short. We’re not sure how much run off we’ll have, if we have it,” Mounyo said.
After 23 years as division manager, Muonyo said this isn’t the first bad year he’s seen, pointing out that when dealing with a resource completely dependent on the weather, no one really has control.
“We are already doing rotations and asking irrigators to be extremely careful,” he said. “Yeah, we get everybody watered, and come back again as soon as we can. Sometimes 20 days, sometimes longer. We do the rotations as fast as we can.”
In the release, Board Chairman Derrick Lente said the district will maintain strict adherence to priority right water deliveries. Lente noted that if extreme conservation measures are needed, water bank issuances will stop first followed by non-pueblo irrigators and finally pueblo users.
Should the MRGCD exhaust its stored supply of water, the district will continue to divert natural flow of the Rio Grande, but these flows are likely to be minimal and may not be enough to meet the needs of irrigators, including the Pueblo lands.
The hope is that the district will be able to supply all irrigators with their yearly allotments and with proper planning and conservation, still have some water in storage for next year.
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