Irrigators face water shortages this season
Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District hydrologist David Gensler said the length of this year’s irrigation season will depend on the monsoon. This year, there just isn’t enough water in reservoirs up north to supply farmers with irrigation all summer without help from summer rainstorms.
“We’ve got a little bit of stored water to use this summer to supply our regular water users,” he said. “Once that water’s gone, that’s it. It’ll just depend on what the river sends down our way.”
Regular water users are those not depending on the water bank, a supply of water made available to irrigate land without water rights. Water bank users are already cut off from irrigation because of short supply.
Gensler said this year’s disappointing spring run off means the District will have to start releasing stored water early in the season to supplement river water, but the district only has about 42,000 acre-feet of water in storage, about half of the usual amount.
In a normal year, Gensler said the district stores between 70,000 to 80,000 acre-feet of water in reservoirs to supplement river water. Natural flow in the river provides the rest of the water needed by irrigators. Last year, because of very low flows in the river, the district used over 100,000 acre feet of water but still had to cut off regular irrigation deliveries in August. Normally, deliveries are made until the season ends Nov. 1.
An acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre of land one foot deep, or 325,853 gallons.
The Rio Grande and its tributary, the Rio Chama, supply most of the MRGCD irrigation water; a pipeline diverts water from the San Juan River basin underground to Heron Lake on the Rio Chama to provide more water for the district, the city of Albuquerque and other users.
For the first time in 40 years, Gensler said the San Juan-Chama project under- delivered water, making matters worse.