Monday, September 19, 2022

Dwindling Colorado River Basin key to New Mexico agriculture

Glen Duggins, who grows chile, alfalfa and vegetables, found himself praying for rain in June and feeling grateful to receive some water from the Colorado River Basin.

A La Nina weather pattern had caused an exceptionally dry winter and spring, depleting the Rio Grande, the main water source for farmers to irrigate about 60,000 acres in this area of New Mexico.

The water that carried them through the last arid weeks before the rains came was diverted from the Colorado River Basin through a federal system of tunnels and dams known as the San Juan-Chama Project. This water merges with the Rio Grande to augment regional supply.

“It got us through the hump and got us into monsoon season,” said Duggins, who owns a 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a hamlet in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

San Juan-Chama accounts for the bulk of the water New Mexico gets from the Colorado River Basin. There are some historic users such as Navajo Nation farmers diverting water separately from the federal system.

Although the basin provides only about 10% of New Mexico’s total water supplies, how this water is used is essential, causing concerns about how climate change and increased demand are diminishing the Colorado River and prompting calls for the seven states within the basin to further reduce consumption.

New Mexico taps 4 million acre feet of water yearly, half from various rivers and half from the ground — with about 400,000-acre feet of surface water coming from the basin, said Rolf Schmidt-Peterson, Interstate Stream Commission director.

An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two or three households in a year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation allocates San Juan-Chama water every year to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, middle valley irrigators and three Native users — Jicarilla Apache Nation, Taos Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh.

New Mexico is one of four states in the upper basin and is allotted 11.25 percent of the available water per year within this group under a 1948 agreement.

New Mexico is required to send a certain amount of water downstream mostly in the San Juan River, which flows to the Navajo Reservoir and eventually into Lake Powell. The Reclamation Bureau diverts the leftover water upstream to cover New Mexico’s allotment.

The state’s share is unchanging despite increasing demand...more

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