U.S. Water News Online
ANTHONY, N.M. -- Ruben Franco usually starts planning his
alfalfa crop this time of year, but predictions of lower than average
runoff and a poor irrigation outlook have forced him to give up his
Below-average snowfall in the mountains this winter have led to
predictions of lower-than-average runoff that supplies the Rio
Grande, irrigation ditches and reservoirs in southern New Mexico.
"Right now I think I'm going to give up the land I'm farming
because I won't have the water," said Franco, who usually grows about
30 acres of alfalfa in Anthony.
Richard Armijo, snow surveyor with the Natural Resources
Conservation Service in Albuquerque, said runoff projections could be
as little as 20 percent of average this year.
That compares to 130 percent of average a year ago. It is lower
than runoff levels in 2003 and 2004, which were considered to be two
of the worst runoff years in recent history.
"We didn't fare very well in February," Armijo said. "We're
looking at a snowpack that peaked two or three weeks ago, and in a
normal year it wouldn't peak until right around April."
In addition, dry winds have eaten away at the snow that did fall,
Farmers are bracing themselves for a water shortage. Last month,
the Elephant Butte Irrigation District allotted farmers 14
acre-inches of river water, an amount that's not likely to increase
by much, said Phil King, a water engineer consultant for the
The district considers a full allotment to be 3 acre feet of
Irrigation District Manager Gary Esslinger said he thinks farmers
are more prepared to deal with a smaller allocation because of their
experience in recent drought years.
"They've already gone through it in 2003 and 2004," he said.
Elephant Butte Lake and Caballo Reservoir also rely on runoff from
the mountain snowmelt.
The water level at Elephant Butte Lake in late September is
estimated to be 55,400 acre feet, said Wayne Treers, water engineer
with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
"We haven't been that low since October of 1961," Treers said.
Water stored at Elephant Butte was set to peak at 506,000 acre
feet, about 28 percent of capacity, just before it's released for
State park officials and businesses that depend on Elephant Butte
worry that reports of poor runoff will keep away visitors.
But last year, even when the water was at its lowest point, it was
safe to boat on the lake, said Mike Ormand, superintendent of
Elephant Butte Lake State Park.
Visitors "might have to drive farther in the sand to get to their
favorite spot," he said. "If they don't see that as a problem, it
continues to be a great opportunity."
Randy Gomez, a fisherman from Dona Ana, said he would prefer to
have more water, but low lake levels don't faze him.
"The water levels make a huge difference, but it just depends on
what perspective you take when you go out there," he said.
Other fishers are more hesitant about visiting the lake when water
levels are low.
Mike Gamboa of Las Cruces, a professional bass fisherman, said the
fishing quality of the lake declined several years ago when the water
level first began dropping. Rapid drops in the water level kill fish
eggs that are laid at the edge of the lake because they dry out, he
"I don't think I'll ever see it as good as when I started fishing
in 1990," he said. "It's unfortunate."
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