Learn how Elephant Butte’s water levels dropped from 1984 to 2020
Here is an overview of water levels at Elephant Butte Lake since 1984.
Damien D. Willis, Las Cruces Sun News
LAS CRUCES – Drought conditions and poor snowpack runoff will likely make another “tough” water supply season for the lower Rio Grande in 2022, according to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.
The agency receives and distributes water from the river for the Rio Grande project, which serves New Mexico, West Texas and the Juárez Valley in Mexico.
Based on weather data so far in 2022, EBID official Gary Esslinger said it looked like there would be another year of low storage levels at Elephant Butte reservoirs and by Caballo.
As of March 20, Elephant Butte Reservoir was at 11.7% capacity, and even that is an improvement from this time last year, when it dipped below 10%.
“We need heavy snowstorms in March and even April to catch up,” Esslinger said.
New Mexico state climatologist David DuBois said that doesn’t seem likely.
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At Tuesday’s meeting of the New Mexico Drought Watch Task Force, Dubois said that despite some rainfall over the past week, “the basic outlook is for the drought to continue for at least the rest of the spring”.
“Colorado’s snow is just around average,” he continued, “but the further south you go, the drier you get.”
Another fall and winter under La Niña weather conditions kept the southern United States dry and warm, reducing snowpack needed to recharge streams as storms are pushed north .
Less water from the Rio Grande downstream in the Colorado through New Mexico means less water to allocate to area farmers in the summer and likely another year of low levels at Elephant Butte Reservoir, which also supports a recreational tourism economy in spring and summer.
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Esslinger said BIDC expects the 2022 irrigation season to open on June 1 and run into the first week of July, with a low allocation of 4 inches for the second consecutive year unless the conditions are not improving.
He noted, however, that more will be known at the end of the winter snow season in April, when EBID makes its initial allocation estimate.
The smaller allotment and short timeframe puts more pressure on farmers to submit their water orders and plan for the summer, including decisions about crop reduction or groundwater pumping .
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The driest water year in recent memory is 2013, which saw a 3.5 inch allowance with water released from the Caballo Dam for 47 days, along with the 4 inch allowances of 2011 and 2021 .
Dubois said the projections put the odds on whether a third straight La Niña is in the works.
“We are far behind in terms of rainfall and what we expect for the winter season,” he said. “We had a nice break with the cooler temperatures in January and February, but December was very hot. It sucked a lot of moisture out of the ground.”