Spring flow begins

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There’s water in the ditches, but conservancy officials are asking that irrigators not dip into the supply just yet.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began diverting water into the main canals and ditches.

District spokesman Thomas Thorpe said the district will be putting water into the laterals, canals and irrigation ditches to charge the system.

“Basically the district is getting ready for the irrigation season. This flushes out weeds and other accumulations from the system,” Thorpe said. He added district personnel would clean up any blockages found during the system preparation.

And he asked that irrigators not open their turnouts just yet.

“If they do that, it doesn’t allow us to do what we need to charge the system,” he said. “And generally it’s not good because the water right now will be full of weed seed they don’t want in their fields.”

Thorpe said irrigators should wait three or four weeks before irrigating from the ditches.

And when irrigation season gets fully under way, Thorpe said the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer recently allocated 20,000 acre-feet of relinquishment credit to the MRGCD to help farmers in the mid valley during this drought time.

“This water is Rio Grande compact relinquishment credit given to the district that is available under Article 7,” Thorpe said. “What OSE is saying in effect is that New Mexico sent more water to Texas at some point in the past than it should have and we can take some back.”

The OSE is crediting the district 20,000 acre-feet now, and depending on things such as runoff, Thorpe reports there may be more available later in the season.

“The state likes to see 80,000 to 100,000 acre-feet available for supplemental water for farmers,” he said. “From our standpoint, the reason this was done is, over the years the district has been working hard on conservation and been good water stewards.”

Without that relinquishment credit, though, Thorpe said the district would be starting the irrigation season with about 20,000 acre-feet. The relinquishment bumps the available water for the start of the season to a little over 40,000 acre-feet — less than half of the 103,000 acre-feet the district started the 2012 season with.

“If we get the other relinquishment, we will be closer to the 80,000 to 100,000 acre-feet and we will have a season very similar to last year,” he said. “And like all years we will, of course, depend heavily on runoff. We don’t want to start releasing our supplemental water until we absolutely have to. We may get a really good monsoon in July. There are lots of things we just can’t control.”

Another thing out of anyone’s control is the amount of spring runoff from the snowpack. Thorpe said district hydrologist David Gensler reported that the snowpack was about 75 to 80 percent of normal right now, thanks to recent winter storms.

Prior to the snows last month, the snowpack was down around 40 percent of average, Thorpe said.

“If we get some more storms rolling through, hopefully we will get a snowpack at least to 100 percent or above,” he said. In comparison, last season began with the snowpack at 80 percent.

And with water beginning to make a reappearance in ditches, Thorpe said the district and the Ditch Safety Task Force remind people that ditches are deadly.

“There are better places to swim,” Thorpe said. “They might not look it, but the irrigation ditches, all ditches, are dangerous.”

 


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.