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Farmers Facing a Tough, Dry Season

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Farmers on the lower Pecos and Rio Grande are preparing for another dry planting season as New Mexico’s drought lingers into a second spring.

The Carlsbad Irrigation District told its farmers last week they would get an initial allotment of 0.8 acre feet of water per acre of land, less than one-third of an average year’s irrigation supply.

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which serves farmers in the Mesilla Valley of the lower Rio Grande, last week gave its farmers an initial estimate of 0.7 to 0.8 acre feet of water per acre. The average allocation is 3 acre feet, said Gary Esslinger, the irrigation district’s manager.

Some farmers who have groundwater pumps, especially orchard owners and those growing alfalfa, should be able to handle the shortfall, said Dudley Jones, the Carlsbad district’s general manager. But many smaller farmers who do not have pumps will have a tough year, Jones said.

The shortfalls are the result of a modest snowpack this year and a lack of much leftover water from last year in the state’s reservoirs.

The problems for southern New Mexico irrigators were the most notable issues highlighted Thursday at the monthly meeting of the state’s Drought Monitoring Working Group, a state-federal task force.

The primary effect of drought is on New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers. With most of the state’s cities depending on groundwater, drought has little short-term effect on municipal water use.

In the middle Rio Grande Valley, from Cochiti to Socorro County, irrigators are in much better shape, with enough water in storage and snowpack to make a full irrigation allotment likely, said Tom Thorpe, spokesman for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

Three wet weeks in December have saved New Mexico from the worst of another drought year, but more than 80 percent of the state remains in a formally declared drought condition as the after-effects of an extraordinarily dry 2011 linger, according to Ed Polasko of the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office.

La Niña, the weather pattern that has left the Southwest dry while excess rains falls in the northwest, is fading, Polasko said at Thursday’s meeting. One of the water supply risks at this time of year is dry wind, which can cause snow to evaporate directly into the air rather than melting into the streams, he said.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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