LAS CRUCES – Despite heavy rains during New Mexico’s monsoon season and some early fall precipitation in October, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District expects the 2023 irrigation season brings another late water distribution with low allocations for area farmers.
The explanation is familiar at a time of persistent drought, La Niña weather and climate change. The National Weather Service reports a 75% chance of a third consecutive La Niña winter, which has occurred only three times since 1950. The weather pattern is pushing jet streams north and leaving southern states dry and warm during the fall and winter months.
This means, once again, that there would not be enough snowmelt to recharge the Rio Grande flows from March to July. The monsoon rain spikes, while welcome, are a “flare in the pan,” as EBID hydrology consultant Peter King put it.
“We’re still getting the monsoon influx spikes like we’re having right now,” King said in a statement, “but we’re not getting the ‘meat and potatoes’ that are the runoff from the melt snows in the spring.”
The agency’s fall maintenance season begins this week, including servicing canals, drains, valves and equipment.
BIDC receives and distributes water from the river for the Rio Grande project, which serves New Mexico, West Texas and the Juárez Valley in Mexico. The agency reported that project storage has increased by about 30,000 acre-feet since September,
Releases from the Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs ended in August, eventually leaving the bed of the Rio Grande dry in a state some call “Rio sand.” Since then, BIDC said the Elephant Butte Reservoir has gained 47,000 acre-feet of water and is only 6% of its capacity, while the Caballo Reservoir has recovered 28,000 acre-feet.
The announcement came weeks after heavier-than-usual rains in late summer and infrastructure failures led to flooding in several New Mexico counties, particularly in the southwest.
Heavy rainfall in New Mexico and West Texas eased drought conditions somewhat, according to the US Drought Monitor, but King said the assessment did not take into account deep soil moisture and aquifer levels.
With a seasonal supply of 143,996 acre-feet, EBID predicts persistent drought conditions and allocations next summer “in the order of six inches,” which would be bad news for agriculture as well as the economy. Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences summer tourist economy, if reservoir levels are low again next year.