Farmers in Rio Grande, New Mexico face premature water cutoff

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Hundreds of farmers who rely on water from the Irrigation District that channels water along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico face second consecutive year of early shutdowns .

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Board of Directors voted on Friday to end deliveries for irrigation a month earlier due to poor water availability.

The October 1 shutdown means winter crops like those grown by Travis Harris just north of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, about 144 kilometers south of Albuquerque, are under threat.

“It’s my livelihood,” Harris told the Albuquerque Journal. “This is how I live everyday for my family. “

Harris grows alfalfa and wheat just like his father and grandfather, often planting corn fields as food for the birds that migrate along the Rio Grande.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board said the closure was necessary due to long-term drought and large water debt owed to southern New Mexico and Texas.

“We understand that this could potentially cause people to lose their farms,” ​​said Stephanie Russo Baca, a board member, who represents the county of Valencia. “We don’t take it lightly. “

The district’s decision was prompted in part by the Rio Grande Compact of 1939, which governed river water deliveries between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

New Mexico already owes around 43 billion gallons to downstream users under the pact, but if that shortfall reaches 63 million gallons, it could face more restrictions on access to the reservoir’s stored water. El Vado.

Mike Hamman, CEO and chief engineer of MRGCD, said a cycle of years of accumulating water debt during drought is not the solution for long-term water management.

“We are digging a deep hole,” Hamman said.

Cutting off the irrigation diversions would help “get out of this mess” of water debts, Hamman said. This would increase deliveries to the Elephant Butte Reservoir.

“Mother Nature does not provide (the water), so we have to adapt,” he said. “We don’t take it away from anyone, because the water won’t even be there in October to do anything, unless a miracle happens.”

The neighborhood has struggled with shortages for years. It delayed the start date for this year’s spring irrigation season by one month, and last fall it also ended deliveries a month earlier.

Valencia County dairy farmer Mikey Smith said local agriculture “will no longer exist” if the district does not reconsider how to distribute water equitably and assess inefficient water use by some irrigators.

“Some of the biggest dairies that we never thought were going to come out, have all sold out,” Smith said. “They can’t afford to feed their animals.

A longer irrigation season could have damaged New Mexico’s reputation as Texas pursues a dispute in the United States Supreme Court over water deliveries, said Chuck DuMars, attorney for the District of ‘irrigation.

“It wouldn’t be a good lens if we went ahead and kept increasing throughput,” said DuMars.

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