KRWG

Snowpack and Late Storms Boost Irrigation and Storage

Nov 13, 2017

Credit NMFO

Albuquerque, N.M. – A good spring runoff and heavy rains in October helped boost reservoir storage and irrigation in New Mexico this season.

The Rio Grande experienced its highest spring runoff since 2008 this year. Flow into New Mexico from Colorado was good. The Rio Chama, the largest tributary to the Rio Grande in New Mexico, experienced its sixth best spring runoff since 1956.

San Juan-Chama Project contractors received a full allocation in 2017 for the first time in four years. Heron Reservoir, which stores San Juan-Chama Project water, currently holds approximately 149,380 acre-feet. That is an increase from 88,385 acre-feet at this time last year.

During the first year of water operations under the new Biological Opinion for the Middle Rio Grande, Reclamation worked closely with its partners to ensure the best available flows for the silvery minnow.  While the BO does not have set flow requirements, it requires Reclamation and its partners to utilize a suite of tools to benefit the silvery minnow, while delivering water to users and complying with the Rio Grande Compact. Despite persistent drought and declining numbers over the last several years, the silvery minnow responded strongly to the good runoff in spring 2017, according to the latest population data available.  

El Vado Reservoir, which stores water for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, finished the 2017 irrigation season with 112,905 acre-feet in storage. That is significantly higher than last year at this time, when the reservoir held 45,000 acre-feet.

Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs currently have a combined storage of a little more than 335,000 acre-feet. That is almost 200,000 acre-feet more than they contained at this time last year. Elephant Butte received significant inflow during the spring runoff and well into the summer, and again from heavy rains in September and October. The monsoons also reduced the demand by Rio Grande Project water users, who received their first full allocation since 2008. Rio Grande Project water is used to irrigate lands in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico, the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 in west Texas, and in Mexico. Project water is also used for municipal and industrial purposes by the city of El Paso, Texas.

Although the Pecos River did not see a particularly strong spring runoff, late season rainstorms again left most reservoirs nearly full. At the end of the 2017 irrigation season, Sumner Reservoir held 32,693 acre-feet in storage. At the same time last year, it held 17,291 acre-feet. Brantley ended the season at 33,940 acre-feet, which compares to 29,631 acre-feet at the end of the 2016 irrigation season. The Carlsbad Irrigation District had a full allocation this year for the fourth year in a row.