But last week's winter storm that hit the northern New Mexico mountains provided moderate to heavy snowfall, which is encouraging, though the forecast for the next two weeks and the fast approaching spring season could mean the best of the winter snow showers are over.

Also of concern, MRGCD director Chris Sichler said recently that his district will only be getting a portion of the water delivered last year from the San Juan-Chama Project, and that is cause for concern.

The district has been promised 15,000 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water this year, about 21,000 acre feet less than the district received last year. The project was developed by the U.S Bureau of Reclamation and designed to provide water to municipal, domestic and industrial users. But the water can be used to supplement irrigation water as well. The project has been operating since 1971.

State water officials say water collected at the project comes from the San Juan River and is funneled into the Rio Chama, which serves as a tributary of the Rio Grande. Sichler says the state has promised an additional 40,000 acre-feet, depending on spring rains, and this would help middle river basin farmers to get irrigation water throughout the spring season.

But Gensler is warning that unless the rains return this spring, there remains a chance farmers will run out of irrigation water by the end of May.

The  MRGCD special water bank was established to provide a way for farmers to irrigate lands in the district from property where water rights have been severed, in other words, water that would be available because it had not been and was not going to be used or because of the transfer or sale of water rights. Farmers can lease this irrigation water, made available because other land in the district is no longer capable of being irrigated for various reasons, including the construction of roadways or building projects.

Gensler says farmers need to remember that a new water bank policy went into effect this year. Under the terms of that policy, water bank users will have irrigation cut off if the amount of water in storage and flowing in the Rio Grande drops below monthly parameter, which have been published on the district's website. Irrigators who do not use the water bank will not be subject to this new policy.

On the up side, the hydrologist says irrigation water, subject to curtailment, can and will resume to farmers if conditions warrant, meaning river flows or reservoir levels increase as a result of rain and run-off.

Officials say if natural spring run-off doesn't materialize or fails to provide enough water to meet demands, the district must rely on stored water to keep farmers irrigated. But currently there is little water in storage, a condition state water officials say will improve during the annual snowmelt.

If the forecast is right and another dry summer occurs, farmers should expect water shortages as early as late May or June and certainly by the peak of summer.

But Gensler says middle basin farmers may be in better shape than other farmers across the state who depend on reservoir levels alone for irrigation, especially growers around Carlsbad and Fort Sumner.

 

Also of interest:

Water issue offers a lesson in humility

Are more water regulations coming?

New Mexico farmers hope heavy snows will improve irrigation options