First Time in 22 Years: Reclamation Completes Irrigation Season without Drying Middle Rio Grande

Media Contact: Mary Perea-Carlson, (505) 462-3576

For Release: November 17, 2008

The Bureau of Reclamation today celebrated the completion of the first irrigation season in more than two decades that did not result in any drying of the Middle Rio Grande.

The success was attributed to a combination of factors including, careful river monitoring and management, excellent cooperation between Reclamation, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and other partners, a good supply of water to supplement natural river flows and a little timely help from Mother Nature.

"This successful season just demonstrates the tremendous amount of cooperation between water managers and water users," said Reclamation Albuquerque Area Manager John Poland.

The coordination included water management conference calls several times a week amongst numerous entities including, Reclamation, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.

According to Reclamation records, the last time it went through a full summer without drying any reach of the Middle Rio Grande was 1986.

This year, more than 32,000 acre-feet of water was released from upstream reservoirs to supplement the natural flows of the Rio Grande. That water had been leased by Reclamation from willing San Juan-Chama contractors including the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Reclamation was also able to coordinate with the Bureau of Land Management and the Water Utility Authority to ensure that water was moved over weekends to allow for increased rafting flows on the Rio Chama south of El Vado Reservoir.

This was the first time that Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers were required to operate under the restrictions of a "Wet Year" under the 2003 Biological Opinion. This was due to good snowpack in northern New Mexico early last spring. This required continuous flows on the river to Isleta Diversion Dam all year and a target flow of 100 cubic feet per second over San Acacia Diversion Dam through November 15. Because the river ran continuously, there was no need for rescue of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow from pools as the river dried as in previous years.

Although Reclamation officials are pleased with the success of this irrigation year, they warn that the situation along the Middle Rio Grande is still unpredictable. Reclamation water managers currently believe they have leased enough water to meet the requirements of the 2003 Biological Opinion through at least 2009. However, Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers have initiated the process to seek a new Biological Opinion with the support of their partners in the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program before the beginning of the 2010 irrigation season. They are currently modeling various hydrologic scenarios to explore options that will allow the silvery minnow to continue to thrive while using less supplemental water.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.