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Upper Colorado Region
Salt Lake City, Utah
Media Contact:
Filberto Cortez
(915) 534-6301

Released On: March 12, 2004

Bureau of Reclamation Announces Beginning of 2004 Irrigation Season on the Rio Grande Project
"This morning, Reclamation initiated water releases for the 2004 irrigation season on the Rio Grande Project," announced Filiberto Cortez, manager for Reclamation"s El Paso Field Division. The gates at Caballo Dam on the Rio Grande opened at 8 a.m., releasing water from Rio Grande Project storage with an initial discharge of 1,000 cubic feet per second.

"The water will be used to irrigate lands along the Rio Grande in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico and in the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 in far west Texas. Mexico is plans to begin its irrigation season with an initial diversion at the Acequia Madre heading on March 22nd on the Rio Grande near El Paso, TX," Cortez continued.

The general public should be aware that water levels within the Rio Grande river channel will rise and fluctuate during the irrigation season, particularly with the initial release from Caballo Dam.

Reclamation began water releases through the Elephant Butte Dam power plant on February 26, 2004. The present discharge is 1,320 cubic feet per second with releases through two turbines. Cortez said, "Reclamation uses this discharge to raise Caballo Reservoir water level to its summer operating range and supply storage water for irrigation on the Rio Grande Project."

The general public should be aware of rising and fluctuating water levels within the Rio Grande natural channel downstream of Elephant Butte Dam as well as the lake level at Caballo Reservoir during the irrigation season.

"Reclamation notified irrigation districts and Mexico early in 2004 about the less-than-full supply of irrigation water, so that farmers could contemplate planting different or fewer crops this year. This is the second year since 1978 that a less-than-full supply for irrigation was available for the Project water users," said Cortez.

Cortez continued, "The irrigation districts in Southern New Mexico, West Texas and Mexico benefited from Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs, whose storage provided full supplies for irrigation for seven years into the drought plaguing the Southwest. Other irrigators in the upper Rio Grande Basin and the Pecos River Basin, both within New Mexico, have felt the impacts of the drought for the last several years with reduced allocations and/or shortened irrigation seasons."

This year's March 1st spring runoff forecast into Elephant Butte Reservoir is 73 percent of normal, which is the best runoff forecast since 1998. "Even with the likelihood of better runoff conditions than last year, Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs will remain at very low storage levels throughout the year," Cortez said.

The present allotments for irrigation on the Rio Grande Project are 26 percent of a full supply for Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, and Mexico (under the 1906 Treaty). Based on the low storage in both reservoirs and the below normal runoff forecast, Reclamation predicts and that the water users of the Rio Grande Project will have less-than-a-full supply for irrigation this season for the second year in a row. The final allocation for 2003 was 34 percent of a full supply.

The March 1, 2004 storage level at Elephant Butte Reservoir was 272,270 acre-feet (14 percent of full), and the lake level was nearly 88 feet below Elephant Butte Dam's spillway crest. Elephant Butte Reservoir has not been this low since February, 1979. Caballo Reservoir's storage level was at 16,430 acre-feet (7 percent of full).

The current drought in the upper Rio Grande Basin has severely affected the water supply of the Rio Grande Project at Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs. Seven of the last eight years (1996-2003), Rio Grande spring runoffs from snowmelt have resulted in below normal runoff volumes into Elephant Butte Reservoir. The 2002 runoff was the ninth lowest on record in 108 years of flow data, dating back to 1895. Last year's (2003) runoff was the tenth lowest on record. Consequently, the storage level at Elephant Butte Reservoir has dropped dramatically.

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