ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Careful management of limited water supplies and steady rainfall through much of the summer are being credited for helping keep the Rio Grande flowing.
Bureau of Reclamation water managers headed into the summer irrigation season knowing supplies in storage were extremely limited. This spring, an average snowpack for the third year in a row resulted in lower-than-average snowmelt water flows due to strong winds, warmer temperatures, and low soil moisture. El Vado Reservoir received about 62% of the median spring runoff volume, which was 24% less than was expected in April. The Rio Grande spring runoff peaked on May 2 in Albuquerque, nearly a month earlier than average.
“We are seeing higher temperatures that result in snow melting earlier than we’ve seen historically and a below average spring runoff in the Rio Grande Basin,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “Managing the system accordingly during the prolonged drought will remain a top priority and we will continue to work with our partners towards solutions.”
Portions of the Rio Grande between Albuquerque and Elephant Butte Reservoir dried at different times this summer as temperatures spiked. For the first time since the 1980s, a portion of the river in the Albuquerque area also dried. Since the 1990s, Reclamation and our partners have taken significant measures to supplement the river flows and prevent drying in the Albuquerque area. However, without adequate water supplies in storage, it could not be prevented this year. June monsoons materialized and within days, the rainstorms began to help reconnect the river.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District modified its operations early in the season in response to what looked to be dire conditions. River flow from rainstorms throughout the state, however, has allowed farmers to have a nearly full irrigation season.
As construction is underway at El Vado Dam in northern New Mexico, only a small pool of water is being held there. Construction is scheduled to continue through the winter and through the next irrigation season. Reclamation is able to run water through El Vado Dam to pass Rio Chama flows and San Juan-Chama Project releases from Heron Reservoir downstream. The San Juan-Chama Project has received about 61% of a full allocation so far this year.
Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs ended their irrigation seasons in late August with a combined storage of about 95,000 acre-feet, about 4% of capacity. Currently, due in large part to subsequent rain, total storage is at about 147,000 acre-feet, approximately 6% of capacity. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District received Rio Grande Project water for about 7 weeks, and Mexico for nearly 10 weeks. Mexico received about 24% of a full allocation. The El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 received project water for about 11 weeks.
On the Pecos River, rainfall also helped with storage at Brantley Reservoir, which ended irrigation season with 28,000 acre-feet in storage. Lake Sumner is ending the water year holding about 9,000 acre-feet. Carlsbad Irrigation District farmers received an allocation of 2.2 acre-feet this season. A full allocation of water would be 3.7 acre-feet of water per acre.
For more information water operations in the Albuquerque area, visit https://www.usbr.gov/uc/albuq/water/index.html.