(LAS CRUCES, New Mexico) – Water meter data complied through the Office of the State Engineer’s metering program, part of the Active Water Resource Management initiative, shows a dramatic increase in groundwater pumping by irrigators in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico in 2011. Meter records indicate that 280,000 acre-feet of groundwater was pumped for irrigation in 2011, twice as much as in either 2009 or 2010.
State water officials expected an increase in irrigation pumping this season as area farmers were forced to rely upon groundwater to supplement a dramatic reduction in Rio Grande Project surface water to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID.) Reductions in the amount of Rio Grande Project water allocated to members of EBID are the result of the 2008 Rio Grande Project Operating Agreement compounded by the continuing drought. This agreement allocated 268,000 acre-feet of Rio Grande Project water to the El Paso County Water Improvement District (EP1) in 2011, while only 77,000 acre feet were allocated to EBID.
State water officials confirm that local farmers did not increase the total water usage amount, despite the increase in groundwater pumping. On average in 2011, EBID farmers put about 4 feet of irrigation water on each acre of crop land, the same as in 2009 and 2010 years; however, in 2011 more of this water had to come from groundwater pumping.
Other groundwater uses in the Lower Rio Grande remained stable. Municipalities and domestic water suppliers pumped 39,000 acre-feet, and pumping for industrial and commercial uses totaled about 7,000 acre-feet.
New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director Estevan López expressed concern over the consequences of the 2008 Rio Grande Project Operating Agreement upon New Mexico’s aquifers.
“Less surface water in the canals means less recharge to the aquifer,” said López. “EBID farmers are then forced to irrigate with more groundwater to survive the irrigation season. The result is a double hit to New Mexico’s aquifer.”
Over the past four years, New Mexico has collected data on irrigation, municipal, mutual domestic, and industrial and commercial groundwater pumping in the New Mexico part of the Lower Rio Grande.
“We have been successful in measuring groundwater pumping in New Mexico for the past four years. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests for data, Texas groundwater pumping amounts remain unclear,” said State Engineer Scott Verhines. “New Mexico data shows EBID farmers who were given less Rio Grande project water are obligated to pump from their wells. The drought combined with less Rio Grande project surface water has created an unsustainable situation for EBID farmers in the long term.”
Groundwater supplies are limited and we are reminding water rights owners not to exceed the limit of their water right. Limits for irrigation well pumping were agreed to as part of a 2011 Settlement in the Lower Rio Grande Adjudication. The Office of the State Engineer’s water master will begin comparing meter records to these pumping limits in 2012, in order to ensure that water users do not exceed their water rights.
Meters are required on all wells in the Lower Rio Grande, except for single-family domestic wells and small livestock wells. There are now about 2,500 metered wells in the Lower Rio Grande Water Master District.
The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer is charged with administering the state's water resources. The State Engineer has power over the supervision, measurement, appropriation and distribution of all surface and groundwater in New Mexico, including streams and rivers that cross state boundaries. The State Engineer is also Secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission.
The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is charged with protecting New Mexico’s right to water under eight interstate stream compacts, ensuring the state complies with each of those compacts, as well as water planning.