Rain helping with MRGCD water shortage

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It's good news and bad news for irrigators right now.

The good news: There's plenty of water in the Rio Grande, thanks to recent rains.

The bad news: Once the rains stop, irrigation for farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will pretty much come to a halt.

At an informational meeting at the Belen Public Library on July 22, the district's hydrologist, David Gensler, was blunt in his report.

The district has no more water in storage; the last was released from Cochiti Lake on June 30.

"But right now, Mother Nature is being pretty good. Storms have put water in the river and there are cooler temperatures," Gensler said.

Most of the storms have been concentrated in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, he said, allowing irrigators to use the water without waiting for it to come south along the river.

At one point, before the storms began in earnest, Gensler said the river was briefly flowing at 130 cubic feet per second, the lowest since 1987.

"Then we started getting rains, the river came back up and we had more to work with," he said. "The district is out (of water), but there are others to work with."

Gensler said the Bureau of Indian Affairs is calling for water releases for the six pueblos in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

He said the Bureau of Reclamation is talking about releasing water upstream for the endangered silvery minnow.

"But right now, we are dependent on river flows," Gensler said.

In the Belen division, water is going through the Isleta diversion dam since the pueblo has "first crack" at prior and paramount waters. Anything left, the district is distributing to the south.

Flow rates in the river have varied, running at 150 to 400 cfs, Gensler said.

"Things are highly variable in response to the storms. I wish we could say things will change but I don't think they will," he said. "We don't have a way to regulate or control it. What we've seen the last three or four weeks is what we're going to see for the rest of the summer."

Gensler said irrigators might want to prepare themselves for last-minute calls from ditch riders.

"If it rains, we will put that water in the ditches and you may get a frantic call from your ditch rider telling you, if you want to irrigate, you better do it now," he said.

To the south, in Socorro County, the recent rains caused both the Rio Puerco and Rio Salado to run, Gensler said.

There were a couple of storms above Cochiti, he said, but due to compact agreements, that water cannot be stored by the district.

"I wish I had a crystal ball to see if the rains were going to continue," Gensler said. "We've been doing well with what we have and we hope to continue."

One man in the audience of nearly 20 people, wanted to know what farmers could do when the rains stopped and the natural flow of the river returned.

"When the natural flows go back, there will be no more water to irrigate? Can you say when it is going to run out again?" he asked. "As a producer, what can I do? What kind of relief is there?"

The man said this was the third year of a drought which would most likely continue. He added that there would probably be less water available next year from the district.

"The thing that frustrates me is that all these federal agencies comprehend this but there is no solution to manage or justification in how the water is used," he said.

The man continued, asking if he would need to change what he produced based on the amount of water available.

"I can't continue alfalfa," he said. "It takes too much water and will fail again."

Gensler said no one knew what was going to happen.

"This week, we're living day to day, making due with what we get," he said.

"As far as federal policy, we are living in a new time, a different time. There are more uses on the river than ever and we are all in the process of adapting."


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