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New Mexico’s top water agency will host three online public meetings this summer for Lower Rio Grande farmers interested in applying for grants that would pay landowners not to pump groundwater for 18 months.
Farmers who irrigate in the Rincon and Mesilla valleys of Doña Ana and Sierra counties are eligible for the Interstate Stream Commission program.
State Engineer John D’Antonio said the initiative aims to help prevent further decline of regional aquifers.
“It is imperative that New Mexico continues to work with local entities to establish groundwater conservation practices that will help sustain aquifer levels for the purpose of a water source and a drought reserve in future years,” D’Antonio said.
The state will accept grant applications from Aug. 9 to Aug. 23.
Enrolled farmers will fallow their land from Jan. 1, 2022, to mid-2023.
Land parcels must be at least 10 irrigated acres. Grants will pay $1,100 an acre.
The U.S. Geological Survey and Elephant Butte Irrigation District will monitor regional well data to determine how the aquifer system reacts to less agricultural use.
The groundwater conservation pilot program is part of a three-year Lower Rio Grande management initiative that received $7 million from the state Legislature in 2020.
The ISC awarded 24 grants during the program’s first year. Grant payments totaled $865,000 and included nearly 1,300 acres in southern New Mexico.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.