Water supply consultant J. Phillip King of Las Cruces told members of the EBID in March that the forecast for irrigation water this year is “dismal” and says in the past, when the reservoirs were full irrigation water began flowing in mid-February.

“We’re more than a decade into this drought [cycle],” King told irrigation district board members last month in a special meeting. “The last one lasted 25 years. There have been droughts in the [distant] past that lasted a century.”

The water situation is bad news for all stakeholders who depend on the Rio Grande’s water to survive. The last Census of Agriculture put the value of the region’s annual agricultural production at $400 million per year, but King and irrigation district officials warn if the climate is trending toward a continued dry period, farming operations will be further stressed and threatened, leading to yield declines and possible crop failures.

On the brighter side for pecan growers of Doña Ana County, years of flooding the fields from the canals on groves south of Las Cruces raised groundwater levels to where pumping irrigation water from ground wells is possible. In spite of the added expense, it might prove to be a successful alternative that could save the day if substantial rains do not fall this year.

Many growers, however, say higher input costs will increase rapidly as groundwater is pumped, and that could create a roadblock to successful marketing. But Extension specialists at NMSU say substantial pre-season contracts for pecan exports to China could help if Mexican pecan exports do not gain ground and if demand remains steady.

Greg Daviet, a pecan producer in the Mesilla Valley, says his family first started farming the area in 1905. Now, like never before that he can remember, area farmers need to manage their water more carefully.

“The most important thing is to manage water,” he says. Daviet utilizes a computer-generated irrigation model that helps him schedule his multiple fields.

EBID officials say it is not the first time drought has hammered agriculture of the region. Starting in the late 1940s, drought hit the lower basin, but the region briefly benefited from substantial rains in the mid 50s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Elephant Butte, the largest of the dammed reservoirs, reached levels near capacity for an extended period. Through the 80s and into the late 90s rainfall and snowpack provided adequate water to the region for an extended period. By the turn of the century, though, the drought forced lower reservoir levels, and those levels continue to fall this early spring season.

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