This season, growers in the Lower Rio Grande Basin are facing the smallest first allotment of surface irrigation water since 1978, said Leeanne DeMouche, a specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, which is co-sponsoring the Water Issues and Growers Seminar with Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID).
"The ongoing drought means that the initial water release will be 3 inches of surface water or one-quarter of an acre-foot," she said. "If additional water is available, a second allotment could be scheduled to give irrigators about half an acre-foot for the season." A typical season's allotment is about 3 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land 1 foot deep.
To supplement surface irrigation, growers will be pumping groundwater from wells. Moving that water down EBID canals and into farmers' ditches will require some new work for growers, DeMouche said.
"EBID has agreed to allow its canals to be used for moving pumped groundwater to neighboring farms," she said. "However, growers using the canals will be required to install meters on their wells and to have their water tested for total dissolved solids to get a permit."
EBID will use meter readings to charge farmers for actual water use rather than at standard rates, she said.
The district encompasses 133,000 acres of land, 90,640 of which have water rights and can be irrigated from the canal system.
This year, irrigation orders must be placed in advance. Initial water orders can be placed from Feb. 24 to April 1. Water delivery is planned between March 10 and April 11.
A second summer irrigation will depend on available water. At the end of January, Elephant Butte Reservoir held 384,186 acre-feet, with about 100,000 acre-feet available for irrigation, said James Narvaez, EBID hydrologist. In a good year, the reservoir holds 1 million acre-feet, he said.
Irrigators with less than two acres of land make up about half of the EBID's 7,000 irrigation accounts. Small-tract users will receive one irrigation in the spring, DeMouche said. Ordinarily, such deliveries are made every three weeks during the irrigation season.
"At the March 4 seminar, before the irrigation season begins, we will give an overview of how much surface water is available and how pumped groundwater can be used so that farmers can make plans," DeMouche said. "We will also have updated information from the State Engineer's Office."
For more information about the March 4 seminar or future workshops, contact DeMouche at (505) 646-5254 or EBID at (505) 526-6671. If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, please contact DeMouche in advance.