Rio Grande irrigation district weighs a staggered start

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Farmer Nathan Couevas waters a composter at the Sublime Pastures farm in Tomé. The District of Middle Rio Grande Conservancy plans to stagger the start of the 2022 irrigation season to help meet interstate water delivery needs, but also avoid a district-wide delay. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District plans to stagger the start of the 2022 irrigation season to address water supply constraints.

The district manages the irrigation of the Cochiti dam in Bosque del Apache.

Mike Hamman, who will retire Jan. 1 as the district’s CEO and chief engineer to become a New Mexico state water advisor, said a suitable season could help keep more water in. the river and also to meet the demand for local irrigation, without needing a delay of one month. that farmers saw in the spring of 2021.

The season also ended a month in early October due to scarcity of water supplies and growing water debt.

“It’s damn too hard to squeeze farmers at both ends of the season,” Hamman said.

New Mexico’s water debt to downstream users under the Rio Grande Compact is estimated at nearly 36 billion gallons.

This deficit limits the amount of water the district can store in the El Vado reservoir for its own use.

New Mexico’s snowpack and runoff can also suffer from an expected La Niña winter, which is generally drier and warmer.

Farmers planting seeds and winter crops in the Socorro division of the district would receive water deliveries as early as March 21 as part of the plan proposed by the district.

These deliveries would extend to Belen’s Division on March 28 and to the Albuquerque and Cochiti sections in April, with the river being boosted by spring runoff.

The district will begin scheduling irrigation of mature crops in early April until all fields receive the first irrigation, then water will be delivered on a rotating schedule.

“It’s the only way we can function fairly when we have a tight water supply,” Hamman said.

October 15 would be the provisional date to stop irrigation.

Los Chavez alfalfa grower Michael Lundmark said he feared some growers could “be cheated by those who are inefficient at their watering.”

“If I put alfalfa seeds – which cost almost $ 8 a pound now – if I put in an alfalfa field, am I going to be able to get those second and third waterings to establish it and run it all year round?” ? Lundmark said.

The district council will vote on the plan for the 2022 irrigation season at its January 10 meeting.

Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America body covering Water and the Environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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