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2 Agencies Curtail Rio Grande Draws

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Drought and forest fire ash are forcing central New Mexico’s two largest water agencies to reduce the amount of water they take from the Rio Grande over the next few months.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority on Thursday stopped pumping drinking water from the Rio Grande. And the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District announced Thursday it would stop releasing water stored in northern New Mexico reservoirs in mid-September. That means the only water available to divert into farm irrigation ditches will be whatever flows naturally in the river.

That water should be enough to meet farmers’ needs as the irrigation season winds down, and will allow the conservancy district to save water for next year as a hedge against another year of drought, officials said Thursday.

For the municipal water authority, cleaning ash from the Las Conchas Fire has been expensive, driving up the cost of treating Rio Grande water for delivery to Albuquerque metro area homes and businesses, said John Stomp, the utility’s chief operating officer.

The ash “clogs up the system and costs us money,” Stomp said. Ash has doubled or tripled the amount of organic matter in the river water, which requires additional chemicals at the utility’s treatment plant to remove.

Drought also reduces the amount of water available to take out of the Rio Grande, Stomp said. The water utility primarily uses water imported from the Colorado River Basin, but requires natural Rio Grande flows to make the system work. While imported water is still available in storage, the Rio Grande flows are depleted to the point that it is difficult to make the system work, Stomp said. The utility will increase its groundwater pumping to make up the difference.

The conservancy district has extra water in storage in El Vado Reservoir on the Rio Chama, but wants to hold on to as much as it can so farmers will be able to irrigate their crops next year if the drought continues, hydrologist David Gensler told the conservancy’s board of directors last week.
— This article appeared on page F2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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