In New Mexico's semi-arid southeast corner, near Carlsbad, farmers are celebrating because for the first time in many years, they'll get their full irrigation allotments this year.
It's a little perplexing how the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) could notify agricultural producers of plenty of water to go around this year, in spite of recent dry weather and a forecast of even drier conditions through much, if not all, of the upcoming summer season. It's a paradox, really, one part a drought-warning-forecast, and one part dream-come-true for farmers. It seems downright confusing at first glance.
The news of plenty of irrigation water, however, is supported by a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announcement last week confirming they would begin moving water down the Pecos River from Brantley Reservoir to Avalon Reservoir, starting as early as this week. Avalon Reservoir is the collection point for water that feeds the main canal of the Carlsbad (Irrigation) Project.
Until the waters are released from Brantley Reservoir farther north on the Pecos, the Avalon Reservoir remains all but dry currently, after officials chose to drain the reservoir last July to allow inspections and updates as required to the dam's gates.
No More RVs allowed
Avalon has been in the news lately because spirited off-wheel and ATV enthusiasts have been using the drained lake as a playground, driving vehicles across the lake floor before the scheduled refill.
Local officials issued a warning to off-road enthusiasts last week, indicating that driving on or across the reservoir bottom is risky because, while the surface may appear to be dry, pockets of wet spots remain and vehicles can quickly get stuck and unable to escape under their own power. With the filling of the reservoir as early as this week imminent, officials warn that stuck vehicles may become submerged vehicles in the days ahead.
"The sediment is still wet," CID Manager Dale Ballard told the Carlsbad-Current last week. "If a vehicle is stuck, a determination will have to be made if we fill it anyway with the vehicle still in there. We don’t want anyone to lose a vehicle. The concern is to delay filling to get a vehicle out could delay irrigation to the farms."
He said many may not realize that the crust on the bottom of the lake may only be a few feet think, with a quagmire of mud below, making it easy for a vehicle to break through and get stuck.
Ballard said it may seem odd that this year will mark the first time in four years that a full irrigation allotment is being given to farmers, but four nearby reservoirs are all near capacity, leaving all the water needed this year to meet the District's allocation totals to member farmers. Currently, combined water capacity is only slightly less than full at the four reservoirs, 174,500 acre feet stored compared to 176,500 acre feet total capacity.
Bureau of Reclamation officials say area reservoirs are near capacity in spite of dry times recently because New Mexico was given a water credit under terms of the Pecos River Compact, meaning water that normally would be sent to Texas remains on hand. Officials say the credit was provided as the result of New Mexico delivering excess amounts of water to Texas under the agreement, creating a rare time when all reservoirs in the region are nearly full.
Ballard says although there is enough water to start the irrigation season, if the year lives up to or becomes worse than the dry forecast predicted, then CID officials will take a new look at water releases. He said the District is committed to limiting released water to ensure some water availability next year and thats keeping a careful watch on reservoir levels and water availability is the priority of CID to prevent from completely running out of the natural resource.
Since the drought years of the early part of this decade, water users in New Mexico, Texas and other parts of the Great Southwest have been more focused on the future water needs of the region. As a result, more attention is being directed to use and management of water, which at times has resulted in disputes between water users, including disagreements between states.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is hearing a case in which State of Texas has claimed that illegal ground water pumping in the south-central valley of New Mexico has deprived Texas their fair share of Rio Grande River water allotments. Opening arguments in that case were held in Washington just last month.