Final Distribution of Stored Water To Be Released To The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District for the 2003 Irrigation Season

Media Contact: Ken Maxey, 505-462-3542

For Release: August 29, 2003

Although the Middle Rio Grande area received some beneficial rainfall overnight, Reclamation officials anticipate that this new precipitation will only help to extend the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) irrigation season by a few days. Based on the latest water availability estimates, the supply of irrigation water to MRGCD irrigators will run out by Sunday, August 31.

"This unfortunate situation means farmers in the MRGCD will no longer have stored water to use this irrigation season," Maxey said.

After MRGCD exhausted its stored water in El Vado Reservoir on August 9, 2003, MRGCD received an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water as a loan from the City of Albuquerque to extend its irrigation season through the end of August.

"Though we have aggressively explored every possible alternative for bringing more water into the system, it appears that due to a lack of any additional supply, MRGCD's irrigation water will soon be depleted," said Maxey. "It has been a difficult year for everyone, particularly for the farmers who still have crops in the field."

The impacts of the long-lasting drought have taken a toll on the Middle Rio Grande Valley this year. The average runoff from snowpack was 57 percent of normal, and the monsoons have not materialized as many had hoped, leaving the valley in a moderate-to-extreme drought. Last spring, Reclamation informed the MRGCD board and farmers that due to the lack of sufficient water in storage, there would be a shorter irrigation season this year.

Through agreements between the State of New Mexico, Reclamation and MRGCD, Reclamation was able to store 46,667 acre-feet of water for irrigation in El Vado Reservoir this year. Careful management of water and an agreement between the States of New Mexico and Texas for relinquishment of credit water have allowed irrigation to continue three months longer than initially anticipated. An additional loan of 15,000 acre-feet of water from the City of Albuquerque enabled MRGCD to extend the season by another three weeks. Even with the acquisition of all of this water, the 2003 irrigation season is ending two weeks earlier this year than last year and two months earlier than normal.

The six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos, which have the senior water rights, will continue to irrigate as long as possible.

Reclamation will continue to make releases of water from a special pool set aside to achieve the required flows for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a biological opinion. Over 45,500 acre-feet of water was obtained by Reclamation from willing lessees, through an agreement with the State of New Mexico, and a donation from MRGCD. And, using the discretion the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that it has, Reclamation is delaying delivery of a portion of the 2003 allocations of San Juan-Chama Project water to the contractors to ensure the ability to meet the required ESA flows. If this reserved water is not needed, Reclamation will deliver it to the contractors by year’s end. Reclamation is also pursuing leases with the San Juan-Chama Project contractors for this reserved water and any other sources of water that may be available.

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