Southern New Mexico’s climate is arid to semi-arid with abundant sunshine, low humidity and limited annual rainfall and snow, yet water from the Rio Grande Project, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation water transfer venture, has turned the state’s southern region into a lush garden over the years, perfectly suited for agricultural production.

The desert-to-garden transformation is the direct result of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project, first authorized in 1905 and finally and fully implemented in the early 1950s, consisting of two large storage dams, six small diversion dams, two flood-control dams, 596 miles of irrigation canals and their branches, and 465 miles of drainage channels and pipe that stretch across Doña Ana County, bringing the liquid of life into farms and ranches from Hatch, New Mexico, in the north to south of Las Cruces in the south.

According to USDA’s latest agriculture census, Doña Ana County is the largest pecan-producing county in the nation.

Most of the long established pecan producers of the county say the miles and miles of irrigation canals were once filled to the top with clear, clean water from the reservoirs and used each year to flood the fields and groves of the region with abundant irrigation throughout the dry, hot summers of the Southwest. Many remember fishing for large bass in the irrigation canals with plenty of water that contributed to the region's agricultural crops.

But with three years of drought, southern New Mexico farmers say waters of the Rio Grande do not run deep as once they did, and reservoir levels have fallen to the lowest in years.

Now, irrigation canals once full of water remain dry for well over a month into the irrigation season, and officials at Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) say no more than 39 percent of the average annual watershed runoff is expected to flow back into the river to help the reservoir recover. That means little or no irrigation water will be released into the canals until June or July.