Bureau of Reclamation expects above average runoff on the Rio Grande through New Mexico this Spring

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

For Release: April 18, 2019

The Rio Grande north of Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Rio Grande north of Santa Fe, New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –Irrigators, municipalities, recreation community and the overall ecosystem of the Rio Grande will experience the benefits of an above average spring runoff this year. That’s according to the Annual Operating Plan based on above average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Rio Grande and its tributaries released today by the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s April streamflow forecast predicts that Rio Chama flow into El Vado Reservoir will be 142% of average, up from just 18% of average last year. This is a forecast inflow of approximately 320,000 acre-feet, up from 41,000 acre-feet at the same time last year. Rio Grande streamflow at Otowi Bridge is similarly predicted to be at 142% of average.

“This is a complete turnaround from last year when we were preparing for drying in the Middle Rio Grande in April,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are looking forward to a good spring runoff that will improve storage supplies and help the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow spawn. Reclamation will continue to work closely with our water management partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State of New Mexico, Bureau of Indian Affairs and irrigation districts to manage the Rio Grande safely and efficiently through the summer.”

The Rio Grande is currently operating under the Rio Grande Compact’s Article VII restrictions. Under Article VII when the combined usable Rio Grande Project storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo is below 400,000 acre-feet, storage in upstream reservoirs, like El Vado, is only allowed under limited circumstances. Reclamation expects Article VII restrictions to end in mid-May for several months, allowing for storage in El Vado during that time. Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs ended the last irrigation season holding less than 3% of their combined storage capacity. They are already rebounding and are currently holding more than 288,000 acre-feet or about 13% of capacity.

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District Number One and Mexico plan to begin irrigation the first week in June. Reclamation will begin releasing water from Elephant Butte to Caballo Reservoir on May 3 in preparation for the irrigation season. Releases from Caballo will begin on May 31. The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and very dangerous. The public is asked to stay out of the river channel for their safety.

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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.