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Irrigation district plans for 40-day season, warns that next year will be ‘rough’

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Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s Irrigation Systems Director James Narvaez reports that the season is off to a strong start, looking much like last year’s. His method of running a tight system of “fast and furious” irrigation deliveries requires intense coordination among EBID staff, employees and the district’s farmer members. Systematic surface water deliveries take into account agricultural producers’ varying crops and water needs, helping prevent frequent wetting and drying of the canal delivery system.

Throughout the “dry” season, EBID worked through its extensive system of laterals, canals and drains, maintaining the infrastructure that delivers water during the “wet” irrigation season. Once the season begins, employees spend the first few days working in close communication with El Paso Irrigation District 1 (EP1), carefully monitoring the river channel as it fills.

Then EBID flushes the system, cleaning out any remaining debris pushed through by the Rio Grande surface water supply. As soon as the system is primed and ready the irrigation deliveries to fulfill farmers’ water orders begins. It takes several days for the river system to wet up and water losses to stabilize, Narvaez says, after which the District’s normal operating procedures begin.

Narvaez, EBID Manager Dr. Patrick Sullivan and the District’s Board of Directors are planning for an estimated 40-day water season this year. The official end date is dependent upon many factors, including how robust the anticipated monsoon season develops.

Dr. Phil King, EBID’s hydrology consultant, reports, “The entire Rio Grande watershed is in some stage of drought from moderate down to exceptional; the exceptional extends down into our area.” The La Nina weather pattern persists and he cautions, “Do not expect any additional inflow until we get into the monsoon events. It will not affect our allocation or allotment.”

King said this year’s minimum storage pools of 10,000 acre feet in Elephant Butte and 12,000 acre feet in Caballo, “is as bad as it’s been since probably the 1970s.” He delivered an early warning, “We are not going to release before about June 1 of next year. We’ll have no storage going into next year and won’t be getting any of the spring runoff. Next year is going to be another rough year.”

Although the irrigation season is short, the Rio Grande’s fresh water provides an annual opportunity for farmers to flush salts through the soil while irrigating their crops. Without this the Hatch/Rincon and Mesilla Valleys would be barren and unproductive wasteland. As the surface water soaks into the fields and orchards it eventually moves down into the aquifer, recharging it and helping maintain its health. Dr. Erek Fuchs, EBID’s groundwater specialist, continually monitors the status of the aquifer, analyzing recharge and studying the disconnected sections of the system. He notes, “We’re dealing with the reality of subsequent years of drought conditions.”

In addition to fulfilling surface water deliveries to agricultural producers, EBID delivers to its flat rate members. These members should be ready to irrigate the weekend of June 18-19 and ensure their ditches are clean and in good working order to increase delivery efficiency. Flat Rate Accounts are accounts with less than two water righted acres of land within EBID boundaries and whose accounts are paid in full. Flat Rate accounts may water only once during the scheduled flat rate weekend from midnight Friday night until midnight Sunday night.

District members can access their accounts online via the Farmer Services Tab on the EBID website at https://water.ebid-nm.org/truecip/ or by contacting the water records office at 575-524-8003.