The unforgiving drought that greeted the start of the new decade four years ago—and still lingers across most of the American Southwest—is far from over. But one rural community in New Mexico has a new lease on life after record or near-record rains this year and many farmers are celebrating what should be their first successful crop in nearly four years.
Since 2010, most of Quay County, which borders the Texas Panhandle, has been bone dry. Officials with Arch Hurley Conservancy District (AHCD), which provides irrigation water to many across the region, say farmers who rely on them for water resources are "exceptionally happy for the 15 inches of irrigation water they received this year."
In contrast to recent years, 2014 has been a good year for abundant rain that helped raise lake levels in eastern parts of the state.
"Rains this year have added 75,000 acre feet of inflow to Conchas Lake," reports Conservancy district manager Franklin McCasland.
Irrigation deliveries this year represent the largest allocation of water to their members since the severe drought of 2011 hit the county hard with sustained hot and dry conditions.
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New Mexico State University county Extension officials reported significant rains across the region beginning in late May. From mid-July through late September additional rains fell, bringing rainfall totals ranging between 8 and 10 inches across much of the county. Record rainfall amounts were recorded in some spots, helping to boost the year's accumulation to a record setting 16.5 inches so far.
Rains help support livestock operations
Tucumcari, the county seat, has long been a center for cattle operations dating back to the 19th Century. In fact, Tucumcari was one of the leading cattle shipping points in the state in the cattle-baron days of the late 1800s. Conchas Lake to the north of Quay County helps support the cattle industry and makes it possible for farms and ranches to receive water.
McCasland says while the good rains and bountiful water this year will give many farmers their first harvest since 2010, it doesn't solve all their problems. Additional moisture will be needed to "stay ahead of the game."
Ranchers say with a volatile market and uncertain times, it's too early to start rebuilding herds in spite of the good rains, but most agree forage and grain crops this fall will sustain cattle over the winter months and have hope for winter grasses and a good spring.
Economically, 2014 rainfall will make a positive impact on the county. Local officials say in addition to successful corn, sorghum and alfalfa crops, the area will benefit from increased economic activity from increased spending for labor and fuel. Seed sales could soar as well as farmers prepare to plant their next crops.
The best benefit from a season of good rains may be a renewed and optimistic spirit across the community. Extension and county officials say the shadow that has been hanging over the region since the drought started has been partially lifted. McCasland says even though a hail storm destroyed cotton earlier this year, many people are smiling over sunflowers, which are nearly ready for harvest.
Others are confident they will be able to harvest a dryland winter wheat crop next spring, an added bonus, and hope the spring season will bring more rains to sustain crops next summer with replenished soil moisture and added inflows into reservoirs and stock tanks.
AHCD officials say while levels at Conchas Lake have risen in recent months, continued inflows will be needed to support another good irrigation year next summer. Based upon available water resources, farmers say they should get a good start to the 2015 planting season, but late fall and winter rains would be icing on the cake before planting begins in March.
The general consensus seems to be one of high hope since heavy rains blanketed the region "at just about the right time" throughout the year. Producers say unexpected heavy rains offered adequate water to bring crops to harvest this year, and that is cause for celebration as harvest gets underway.