Thursday, April 5, 2012

Water is a Really Big Deal Here

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.

Looking upstream

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


JC said...

I can't even imagine. We have so much rain here that it's not a problem. We also have had one of our snowiest Winters ever.

Sylvia K said...

Wish I could send you some of ours!! We certainly have more than enough here in Washington!! Plus we had more snow this year than we usually have in five years!! It has been a strange year -- weather wise and otherwise!! Hope you have a great weekend, Claricz!


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Water really is a big deal there, and everywhere.

Martha Z said...

I think the water wars will get worse. The Northwest got too much rain but California, except for the area north of the Feather River, is very dry this year. Only the fact that reservoirs are still high from last year will allow farmers a decent amount of water.

Linda said...

And here am I complaining about lack of rain! Still, it's a problem for our farmers too, if not quite so severe. The concept of a managed river is a new one to me.
Sorry not to have been visiting lately - by accident rather than design. Life is too busy.

Kate said...

This is such a serious problem in the Southwest, esp. NM. I wish that all the people in the world were more careful about water use. I sometimes wonder why Ariz and NM have golf courses, tho!!

On a road trip and finally am in a place with wifi, so I am temporarily back to enjoy your blog!! St. Augustine was fantastic and Savannah is awesome; Charleston is next!!

charlotte g said...

Texas Monthly carried a story about the rice farmers not getting their river water this year in order to feed the growing cities. This is such a big problem all over. Even here, folks chafing at water restrictions are just drilling a well. So far, law gives owners sovereign rights to the water under their property.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow, I had no idea it was that bad down in your area of New Mexico. The Rio Grande was so deep and swift up here for us in the Rio Grande Valley of Albuquerque. Heck even when I was riding down in San Acacia until just recently when the farmers were allowed their allotment. The river was too deep to forge on horseback until that happened. But yet you all down there in the Southern section are dry and barren of Rio Grande water. Amazing to me that such a huge difference can be happening in different parts of our state.
Of course, it makes me realize just how much water we up here must be using.....too much.


LadyFi said...

Hurray for water!

WasSoggyInSeattle said...

Great overview of the water situation Clair!! Amazing really, the logistics of managing something like that.