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MRGCD to cut off water flow to farmers

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With drought sapping flows in the Rio Grande, central New Mexico’s largest agricultural water agency announced Monday it is curtailing water deliveries to some of its farmers.

Customers who have no water rights of their own, who instead buy water one year at a time from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s “water bank,” got word Monday that their irrigation would be cut off unless and until Rio Grande flows improved.

“In case of times of drought, these are the first to be shut off,” said conservancy district board chairman Derrick Lente.

The curtailment is the latest example of an increasingly difficult problem faced by New Mexico water managers as they try to decide who gets how much when drought means there is not enough water for all.

On the lower Rio Grande, Texas has filed a suit with the U.S. Supreme Court charging that New Mexico farmers are taking more than their share of water from the Rio Grande. Farmers in the Carlsbad area, meanwhile, are demanding that the state cut off groundwater pumping in the Roswell-Artesia area, claiming groundwater pumping there is draining the Pecos.

Among the most well-known properties to be affected by Monday’s curtailment announcement are the city of Albuquerque’s Los Poblanos Fields, formerly known as Anderson Fields, a 138-acre property off Montaño NW that is home to some crops and an annual corn maze.

Matt Schmader, who as head of the city of Albuquerque’s Open Space program oversees the property, noted that water bank users had been warned they might see less water this year, but the curtailment happened earlier in the year than he had expected.

The result of the water cutback will be “little or no crop production” on the land, Schmader said.

In all, the curtailment will affect more than 2,500 acres, between 3 percent and 4 percent of the farmland in the district, water agency officials said.

Demonstrating the seriousness of current drought conditions, conservancy district hydrologist David Gensler called the curtailment “a first for the district.”

The action comes less than a year after a lawsuit against the district by Valencia County farmer Janet Jarratt, who charged that the water agency was not doing enough to protect users with “senior” water rights — those whose farms have been watered the longest and therefore are entitled under New Mexico law to first dibs on water when supplies run low. Continuing deliveries to water bank users in drought-shortened irrigations was one of the complaints in Jarratt’s lawsuit.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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