In addition to the devastating drought, New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande and Southern Rio Grande basin farmers are concerned over pending federal litigation initiated by the State of Texas. At risk is the ability of New Mexico farmers to pump ground water from aquifers supported by the river. In times of extreme drought, the only source of water to support crops and livestock are groundwater wells. Without them, not only would crops fail and livestock suffer, but pecan growers in Dona Ana County, the nation's leading pecan-producing county, could lose their trees.

Even with the ability to pump groundwater, growers say production cost increases eat deeply into profits. But without it, they have little hope of bringing a crop to harvest.

South of pecan country and across the state line, irrigation districts in Texas are also thirsty for water. In 2008—after years of bickering over waters of the Rio Grande—New Mexico and Texas water officials finally agreed on a plan to distribute water between the two states. But New Mexico Attorney General Gary King decided the agreement was unfair to farmers in his state and filed suit to terminate the agreement.

The State of Texas fired back by filing a federal lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court charging New Mexico uses an excessive amount of water from the Rio Grande. Also at issue is pumping water from wells in areas considered to be recharge zones for the Rio Grande. If the federal lawsuit moves forward and the court rules in favor of Texas, ensuing disaster awaits New Mexico's farm and ranch community. The court could make groundwater pumping illegal, virtually destroying any hope of successful agriculture in New Mexico during dry years.

One of the hardest hit areas would be Hatch, New Mexico, the chili capital of the nation. Farmers there say pumping groundwater from wells has been the only saving grace to their chili pepper season over the past several years.

New Mexico farmers, like their Texas counterparts, say the only real hope for surviving the drought is a return of normal annual rainfall. While last year's monsoons proved to be a disappointment and failed to relieve drought conditions, most growers and stockmen in New Mexico say they are holding out hope this year's monsoon season will be different.

As always, it depends on the weather.

 

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