Phil King, water engineer for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, says last year was a record low year for irrigation, but for now the reservoir is in better shape compared to last year. But without a good snowpack and spring rains, it could still be a dismal year for water deliveries.

Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoir are instrumental in catching melted snow, which in the past has proven to be one of the primary methods of restoring water resources to the irrigation system. Water collected at Elephant Butte is used to distribute irrigation allotments for southern New Mexico, El Paso County and to Mexico according to a water treaty.

In excessively dry years, like 2013 and other recent years, there simply isn't enough water to go around.

Irrigation officials say water deliveries to Mexico are a priority because of the treaty, and water deliveries to El Paso County are required as a result of a water dispute settlement with Texas. Clouding the irrigation issue is pending federal litigation filed by Texas water officials that could further tax dire water resources in New Mexico.

But King and others say heavy snows this month and next could go a long way in restoring water to the reservoirs that southern New Mexico farmers depend upon.

Thanks to late summer rains and early October snows, the reservoir levels at Elephant Butte have risen compared to the same time last year. But a water shortage still exists in New Mexico and unless heavy snows fall and rains return early this year, there will be irrigation shortages once again.

As the new year dawned federal officials reported snowpack in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado was nearly 90 percent of what was normal, an encouraging sign compared to recent years. But since then snowfall averages have dropped and King says while he remains hopeful, chances are good water concerns will return by spring.

Farmers across the southern region of the state say the time is quickly approaching when they must make a final decision on what and how much to plant, and the amount of snowmelt and early spring rains help them determine what their fields can support based upon groundwater pumping. Until then, their eyes remain fixed on the weather as they hope to see heavier-than-average snow showers and snowpack in the forecast.


Also of interest:

In New Mexico it is not good nutty weather

Texas drought status improves

Expect farm bill by end of January