This is the way the Rio Grande has looked all winter: Dry and empty. People walk their dogs and fly kites in the riverbed. That sign warns people not to swim because of the strong current. No problemo.
The Rio is a managed river, no longer allowed to run free. Snowmelt and runoff is stored upstream from here in reservoirs; water treaties between Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico determine who gets how much when the water is released. Our governing body here in southern New Mexico is the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID), which allots water to farmers and determines when the water will be sent down the river bed to them. This year southern New Mexican farms will get only 8 acre inches, up from 3 acre inches last year, but way below the usual 3 acre feet in good years.
We went to see the newly flowing water, all silty and sludgy, as it made its way down the other day. This is a water event comparable to something like ice-out on Lake Winnipesaukee back in New Hampshire.
Big problem, though: None of this water is meant for the farmers here or in Texas, right now. EBID had originally scheduled the release for everyone's water all at one time in mid-May, but there was some kind of communications problem and the farmers in Mexico still expected to receive their water at the usual time, right about now.
|There's a lot of foamy brown stuff as the water first sweeps through the dry river bed|
Because the Mexican farmers weren't given enough notice to make other plans to pump from groundwater until the May release, they demanded (within their rights by treaty) to have their water sent now. The water in these photos will pass through New Mexico and Texas on its way to Mexico and there will be plenty lost to evaporation and through sinking into the dry riverbed.
|The view downstream|
By the time they start getting their water in mid-May, the farmers here in New Mexico will have lost yet another precious acre inch of this year's scarce water allotment because of this earlier release to Mexico, and will have to pump that much more from their wells, pulling water from the underground reserves in the aquifer. Pumping is expensive, the aquifer is shrinking, and deeper pumping costs even more.
|Pumping a new well in the orchard|
Local farmers are having to drill new, deeper wells to get to the water they need for irrigation. Here is the drilling rig out behind our place in the pecan orchard; it's been working for days, drilling deeper and deeper for precious water.
For more information on this subject:
Release to Mexico in the Rio Grande Project, April 3, 2012
Official Website of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District
Water Supply Outlook, March 2012
New Mexico Ground Water Fact Sheet