Never say “too late” when it comes to needed rainfall.

In a year when a spike in humidity is a welcome development to help cut down on the threat of wildfires, any amount of falling rain, large or small, is a welcome sign. Over the last week, heavy rains across large areas of New Mexico have been the cause of great relief to farmers and ranchers who say dry conditions throughout the summer not only hampered agriculture but also threatened the livelihood of heritage farm and ranch operations.

Earlier this year, officials at the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) were warning farmers that irrigation allotments were being cut as a result of another year of extreme drought across the state, prompting water disputes between southeast New Mexico farmers and water users to the north in Roswell.

Carlsbad area farmers gathered last spring at a CID board meeting to voice their collective concerns and in hopes of spurring district officials to ask state lawmakers for help in the form of financial relief. District officials had told farmers they would be receiving only a small potion—about one-tenth—of their normal irrigation allotment this year because of the drought.

But alarmed alfalfa producers across the county wanted irrigation district support to approach legislators and confront them with a long-standing state policy to deliver water to land users who historically have been using water for the longest period of time. Alfalfa farmer Ronnie Walterscheid told farmers at the meeting it was time to fight back and to make sure lawmakers recognized the priority water rights of farmers across the state.

 

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District water manager Dudley Jones told farmers he was sympathetic to their cause, but he warned that state lawmakers would not limit ground well pumping in Roswell in order to irrigate farm fields in Carlsbad. He reminded farmers that water in southeastern New Mexico is shared by homeowners and industry—especially oil and gas—and by agricultural interests, like dairy operators, farmers and ranchers.

"In a dry year, there just isn't enough water to go around," he told the crowd of anxious growers.

But as August slipped into September, tropical activity in both the Gulf of Mexico and across the Mexican Pacific coast began to change as great masses of moisture-rich air began streaming across New Mexico, fueling an extended monsoon season over the lower Rocky Mountains. Over the last weekend the state received measurable rainfall as a result of not one, but two tropical systems influencing weather across the region. In fact, just two weeks into the month, the entire state of New Mexico has been reporting record or near-record rainfall.