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). Reservoir inflow has remained steady and is contributing about 933 acre feet per day, which is well below average for this time of year. King noted that these statistics are better than 2013 but not up to 2019 levels.
During the District’s monthly board meeting on February 10th, 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 US remains in severe to exceptional drought in early 2021. King warns that the watershed is drier than this time last year. The dry watershed means that, for a given level of snowpack, we will get less runoff into the river and Elephant Butte Reservoir. The harsh reality presented by the ongoing drought requires careful planning as agricultural producers prepare to plant the spring crops that will help feed and clothe the nation. Each year they rely on the scientific data and analysis provided by the District to evaluate the situation and determine their best strategies for farming with a severely restricted surface water supply
“We’re going to be dependent on the aquifer to get through this year,” noted Dr. Erek Fuchs, EBID Groundwater Resources Director. He recently presented to the board a snapshot view of the aquifer conditions in the Mesilla and Hatch/Rincon Valleys using data collected via the District’s state of the art data collection system. This system, developed by SCADA Department Director Patrick Lopez, provides accurate, real time information. The public can access this via: https://www.ebid-scada.org/. Fuchs points out that the District is working with real-time data from its acquisition systems as well as those of other agencies, bringing the most complete data-driven status of the system available to EBID constituents.
Efforts to increase efficiency in surface water use, including piping projects, voluntary water transfers, stormwater capture, and tactics to optimize surface water use, have resulted in real progress with aquifer recharge in the region. In fact, storm water recharge efforts from 2017 “helped substantially in terms of recharge,” Fuchs said. He noted that water consumers in the region “are learning to mitigate our impacts on the aquifer.” As a result, he explained that the “aquifer savings account” is in better shape this year that it would be without such efforts..
Although snowpack has improved slightly since the January board meeting, resulting in an increase of 27,000 acre feet into the reservoir. However, King cautions, “Runoff and resulting allotment that may materialize will not arrive until spring runoff. 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 that 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 first delivery date of June 1.
Allocation is the amount of water available to the two districts (EBID and EPCWID1, i.e. El Paso) and Mexico for diversion. Allotment refers to how much water EBID has available to deliver to farmers’ headgates (the gate controlling water that then flows into an irrigation ditch).
EBID continues to closely monitor snowpack data, climate, and weather conditions as winter progresses. They hope for significant winter 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; press “0” for tax questions and to be transferred to other departments. Find important updates and further irrigation news as the season develops on the EBID website at www.ebid-nm.org and FaceBook page.