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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Irrigators, fishers agree on trout releases

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Amid New Mexico’s drought-driven water management woes, a ray of hope: The water agency that serves farmers in the middle Rio Grande Valley has begun a series of special water releases from Heron Reservoir in northern New Mexico to help reduce risks to trout that were being stranded by the drought.

The releases began Tuesday and should continue through the hottest part of the summer, said David Gensler, chief water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. The District needed to move the water anyway, shifting it downstream to El Vado Reservoir, so the move doesn’t cost the farmers any water, Gensler said.

The changes are happening on the Rio Chama and its tributaries, which flow out of northern New Mexico into the Rio Grande. The river is heavily managed, with a series of dams storing water for farmers and flood control, including water imported from the Colorado River basin via a series of tunnels for use in the Rio Grande Valley.

When the District and the US Bureau of Reclamation got a call about problems on the river below Heron, they agreed to shift their water release schedule, Gensler said.

The call came from Steve Harris of Rio Grande Restoration, a non-profit that has been working on a project aimed at working with water managers on ways to time water releases to maximize their environmental benefits on the Chama.

Harris had heard from fishing guides that low flows on the short stretch of river between Heron and El Vado had stranded Rio Grande and cutthroat trout. After a call to the Bureau and Gensler, the two agencies decided Tuesday to change their release schedules.

“It seemed like a no-brainer,” Gensler said in an interview. “We’re going to have to move the water anyway.”

Harris praised the water managers’ quick response to his call, calling it “a breakthrough of coperation”.

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