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Reclamation prepares for above-average runoff on the Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Pecos River

Media Contact: UCb Public Affairs (385) 261-1929
For Release: Apr 20, 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Strategic coordination and operations will be key on the Rio Grande as water managers prepare for above-average spring runoff amid the multi-decade drought.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande, outlining above-average snowpack in the mountains resulting in above-average runoff in the Rio Grande and Rio Chama. Reclamation and the Corps will be monitoring the levees and berms on the Rio Chama and the Middle Rio Grande during the peak runoff for any signs of concern. Ensuring public safety is of utmost importance while the higher runoff brings welcome water and relief to farmers in the spring and early summer.

In early April, snow water equivalent (in percent of median) was 172% for the Rio Chama Basin, 134% for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 157% for the Sangre de Cristos, and 123% for the Jemez Basin. Based on these values, the Natural Resources Conservation Service streamflow forecast issued for the month of April predicts that the Rio Chama flow into El Vado Reservoir will be 177% of median, with an inflow of about 330,000 acre-feet of water.

“The fantastic storm-filled March really improved the snowpack and the streamflow predictions for this year. This is a welcome change amid the multi-decade drought and the well-below average runoff of the last three years,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are working closely with the irrigation districts, states, municipalities, Pueblos, and all other stakeholders to beneficially deliver water for multiple purposes.”

The year started with low storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs (17%, combined) and no storage at El Vado Reservoir due to a Safety of Dams’ construction project. Low initial storage, combined with predictions for a hot summer, could make for a difficult end-of-season for farmers who may be mostly dependent on monsoonal precipitation. Reclamation plans to bypass Rio Chama flows through El Vado during construction at the El Vado Dam, and move San Juan-Chama Project water down the Rio Chama to support weekend summer rafting flows. With good runoff and precipitation this summer, there is a possibility that Elephant Butte could end 2023 with significantly higher storage than last year.

Information from Annual Operating Plan:

  • In Colorado, irrigation diversions began from the Conejos River and Rio Grande on April 1.
  • The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began irrigation operations in mid-March with natural flow from the Rio Grande.
    • While the spring and early summer flows are expected to maintain a connected river, it is still possible the Rio Grande could experience some drying this summer in the Isleta and San Acacia reaches.
  • Elephant Butte storage in mid-April was over 400,000 acre-feet and is expected to peak over 550,000 acre-feet before steadily declining as irrigation releases start.
    • In southern New Mexico, El Paso County and Mexico, Rio Grande Project irrigation is scheduled to begin the first week of May and is expected to last 4-5 months.
    • The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo Dam will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and dangerous and the public is asked to always exercise caution around the river channel. Water levels will fluctuate throughout the rest of irrigation season.
  • On the Pecos River, basin-wide snow water equivalent was 140% of median in early April, and the NRCS predicts 69,000 acre-feet of inflow into Santa Rosa Reservoir from March to July, the highest prediction in over 15 years.
    • The Carlsbad Irrigation District began irrigation operations in late March and has initially allocated 1.8 acre-feet of water to its farmers.

The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held both virtually and in person at Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office April 18. Those not able to attend the meetings can view the presentations on Reclamation’s website at or contact Upper Colorado Public Affairs at

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The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior and is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier and second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation opportunities, and environmental benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.

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