Water Managers Partner to Preserve Middle Rio Grande Flows

Media Contact: Mary Carlson, (505)462-3576, mcarlson@usbr.gov

For Release: August 22, 2018

The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The photo was taken on April 4, 2018.
The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The photo was taken on April 4, 2018.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In response to ongoing severe drought, the Bureau of Reclamation and partnering water management agencies have reached several agreements intended to keep the Middle Rio Grande wet through the Albuquerque reach for the remainder of this year.

In 2018, Reclamation set aside $2 million to lease water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s San Juan-Chama Project supply to preserve flows through the Middle Rio Grande. Both entities will work closely to ensure continued Rio Grande flows through Albuquerque this summer and fall. San Juan-Chama Project water is diverted across the continental divide from the Colorado River basin. The City of Santa Fe is also partnering on this operation to help mitigate water loss impacts to the Rio Grande near Santa Fe.

“This is an extremely dry year with one of the lowest snowpacks on record,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler. “In an effort to effectively balance water needs within the Middle Rio Grande, we’ve joined forces with key water management entities to reach these very important agreements at a critical time.”

Although a historically low spring runoff resulted in some parts of the San Acacia reach drying in the beginning of April, actions taken by the agencies should keep much of the Middle Rio Grande flowing later this summer and fall.

“As water supplies run low in northern reservoirs, it’s important for the public to understand that this agreement is essentially what’s keeping water flowing in the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande,” said Trudy E. Jones, Albuquerque City Councilor and Chair of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s governing board.

The leased water will help maintain flows from Cochiti Dam to downstream of Isleta Diversion Dam when the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s irrigation storage is exhausted, which could be late this week or early next week. Reclamation will seek additional funding in 2019 for continued leasing.

The Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos, which have the most senior water rights in the Middle Valley, are also participating in extending available water supplies. The Pueblos, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Reclamation agreed to use water stored in El Vado Reservoir that would normally be reserved for ensuring a supply for Pueblos to meet district-wide irrigation demands in exchange for a reserved amount of MRGCD’s San Juan-Chama Project water for late season needs.

"Because of the unusually dry conditions, the Pueblos wanted to cooperate with other agencies this year, and agreed to use our senior water rights to stretch available water supplies for everyone, to the greatest extent possible," said Governor James Richard Bernal, Pueblo of Sandia. "Long-term solutions to water supply shortage issues and protection of senior rights to water need to be identified."

Releases of San Juan-Chama Project water will supplement the very low natural Rio Grande flow and will include water released to ensure that the Pueblos can continue to irrigate. Without adequate rains, MRGCD will divert required flow to first meet the most senior water users on the lands at Cochiti, Santa Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia, and Isleta Pueblos and then for non-Pueblo irrigators as conditions allow.

“The fact that the agencies and the Pueblos worked so well together to judiciously store and use both Rio Grande and trans basin San Juan-Chama water in a historically dry year speaks to the importance of optimizing reservoir operations and irrigation diversions to extend in-river flows well beyond what the 2018 natural runoff would have provided,” said Mike Hamman, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

Audubon New Mexico is also participating in water operations this summer. Audubon has leased 990 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water that is being released from Abiquiu Dam in support of the proposed operations in cooperation with all water management agencies.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the United States, and the nation's second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at https://www.usbr.gov and follow us on Twitter @USBR.