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The winter outlook for projected moisture in the watersheds supplying the Rio Grande remains entrenched in a La Nina weather pattern according to Dr. Phil King, engineering consultant for Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID). However, reservoir inflow has remained steady and is contributing about 933 acre feet per day. King said that these statistics are better than 2013 but not up to 2019 levels.
During the district’s February board meeting, the directors continued to evaluate precipitation in the watershed supplying the Rio Grande, as well as surface water storage statistics. Seasonal project supply currently sits at 188,421 acre feet of usable storage in the combined Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs. An acre foot is a unit of volume equal to the volume of a sheet of water one acre in area and one foot in depth and is equal to 43,560 cubic feet.
Much of the western U.S. remains in severe to exceptional drought in early 2021. King warned that the watershed is drier than this time last year. In this situation, what moisture does fall is often consumed by the dry soils and vegetation before it can make it to Elephant Butte Dam.
Ongoing drought requires planning, as agricultural producers prepare to plant spring crops that will help feed and clothe the nation. Each year, they rely on the analysis and scientific data provided by the district to evaluate the situation and determine the correct relationship between water availability and crop needs.
“We’re going to be dependent on the aquifer to get through this year,” said Dr. Erek Fuchs, EBID groundwater resources director. He presented to the board a snapshot of aquifer conditions in the Mesilla and Hatch/Rincon valleys, using data collected via the district’s data-collection system.
The system, developed by Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Department Director Patrick Lopez, provides accurate, real-time information. The public can access it at https://www.ebid-scada.org/. Fuchs said the district is the only organization working with real time data, thereby providing a resource for timely decision making.
Efforts to increase efficiency in surface water use include piping projects, voluntary water transfers, stormwater capture and tactics to concentrate surface water use. These initiatives have resulted in progress with aquifer recharge in the region.
In fact, recharge efforts from 2017 “helped substantially in terms of recharge,” Fuchs said, adding that water consumers in the region “are learning to mitigate our impacts on the aquifer.”
As a result, he said, the “aquifer savings account” is in reasonably good shape this year.
Although snowpack has improved slightly since January, resulting in an increase of 27,000 acre feet into the reservoir, King said caution remains the watchword.
“Runoff and resulting allotment that may materialize will not arrive until spring runoff,” he said. “Water and farm managers are recommended to plan accordingly for likely low spring runoff and a critically short year with an allotment of six inches or less.”
He said initial allocation numbers will likely be based on April 1 conditions and initial allotment likely based on May 1 allocation. He advised the district to plan for a late start to the surface water irrigation season with an expected release date of June 1.
Allocation is the amount of water available to the Mexico, El Paso and Elephant Butte districts diversion. Allotment refers to how much water EBID has available to deliver to farmers’ irrigation ditches.
EBID continues to closely monitor snowpack data, climate and weather conditions as winter and spring progress. They hope for significant seasonal storms to deliver needed moisture but must strategize for the worst.
For further information, EBID members and the public are encouraged to call the district office at 575-526-6671, then press “0” for tax questions and to be transferred to other departments.
Visit www.ebid-nm.org and the district’s Facebook page.