Dry winter doesn’t mean dire straits for farmers

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New Mexico’s bone dry winter has left low snow pack in the mountains and many worried about fire season, but surprisingly, the picture isn’t a total bust for farmers.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District says it expects to have a little more water to start this season compared to last season. Much of that is thanks to record monsoons that ended last summer.

Water began flowing through the conservancy district’s canals on March 1. The district says the level of stored water they have access to is not ideal.

“We normally start a year somewhere 60,000 to 80,000 acre feet or more, and right now, we’re probably going to begin the year somewhere around 20,000 to 40,000 acre feet,” said Tom Thorpe, public information officer for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

So even with a very dry winter, the water picture isn’t terrible.

“We’ll be fairly similar or a little bit above last year,” said Thorpe.

Those slightly above average water levels come even with snowpack across many of the state’s mountains sitting between 50 and 80 percent of what it should be, far worse than last season.

The district says its canals aren’t looking at an extremely bad picture because of September’s record monsoons. While the storms washed out roads and damaged homes, they also helped re-charge many of New Mexico’s reservoirs.

“That was a lot of water at a really quick pace,” said Thorpe.

Cochiti Lake was one of the big benefactors of the monsoons, with so much water it flooded campgrounds. The conservancy district says Elephant Butte was another big winner. It went from a low point of about 160,000 acre feet of water to now holding around 350,000 acre feet.

While the picture isn’t too bad right now, the conservancy district says it’s still cautious about just how good things will be for its 11,000 farmers this season.

“A lot of it depends on spring rain and spring snow,” said Thorpe.

The conservancy district says its priming its canals right now, but should be up to full water flows in the coming weeks.

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