Pecos River set for major water shortages - Albuquerque Journal

Pecos River set for major water shortages

Ducks swim on the Pecos River as it flows south of Carlsbad. The Pecos River Basin is expected to face major water shortages for irrigated agriculture as temperatures rise over the next century. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Farmers growing alfalfa, corn and cotton in the arid Pecos River Basin of eastern New Mexico do so in a region known for extreme droughts and floods.

The basin is expected to face major water shortages for irrigated agriculture as temperatures rise over the next century, according to a study released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

The basin irrigates more than 136,000 acres for farmers and ranchers in the Fort Sumner Irrigation District, Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District and Carlsbad Irrigation District.

The basin irrigates more than 136,000 acres for farmers and ranchers in the Fort Sumner Irrigation District, Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District and Carlsbad Irrigation District.

Dagmar Llewellyn, a Reclamation hydrologist and civil engineer who oversaw the study, said the report will help irrigators prepare for earlier snowmelt, reduced water supply and thirstier crops.

“Drought and climate change-induced aridification is ongoing already in the basin,” Llewellyn said. “We’ve been seeing less snowfall in the headwaters and more winter precipitation falling as rain. We’ve also been seeing higher consumptive rates within the agricultural system.”

Irrigated agriculture accounts for about 80% of the basin’s water use.

The study team modeled several temperature and precipitation scenarios for the next 100 years. The scientists looked at how reducing irrigation use in each district could ease the stress on regional water supplies.

An overall reduction doesn’t necessarily mean the districts would need to cut back on the amount of irrigated land or slash crop production, Llewellyn said.

“This (reduction) could potentially be achieved by changing crop types or changing irrigation methods or putting in some greenhouses,” she said.

Other water-conservation strategies proposed by the agencies and the irrigation districts in the study include adding electronic water databases, repairing old infrastructure, and removing sediment and invasive plant species from the river.

Frank Scott, the Pecos River Basin bureau chief for the Interstate Stream Commission, said the study will help improve regional water management. Officials must also consider the basin’s endangered species and water delivery obligations to Texas when making decisions about irrigation allotments.

“There are some challenges that are coming up in the future that are going to affect us all,” Scott said. “This study will hopefully help us get in front of that and be able to pivot and deal with it as necessary.”

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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