Albuquerque

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District announced Mon-day that it will begin a program of water rotation because of poor water supply forecasts for the valley.

Irrigators should call their ditch riders to schedule a time for them to use the water to irrigate. “Irrigators have to irrigate day or night on their scheduled times,” said Janet Blair public information officer for the conservancy.

“Failure to take water at the scheduled time could cause delays or the loss of the opportunity to irrigate. It could mean that a farmer could have a 3 a.m. Thursday morning irrigation time.”

Just last week, the conservancy said it would wait a while before implementing a rotation program.

However, “the water supply forecast looks so poor this year that we decided we should start right out of the gate with rotation,” Blair said. “We can’t depend on miracles of Mother Nature at this point. We better conserve water now.”

Water will be rotated from ditch to ditch so not all will be flowing full-time.

Conservancy Chief Engineer Subas Shah decided Monday to start the rotation, Blair said.

“The conservancy district provides water to the farmers and to help the silvery minnow survive,” Shah said in a news release. “We must do our best to conserve as much of our water supplies as we can. Water conservation, efficient management and cooperation from water users will be a key to our survival during drought periods. We face potential drought conditions this summer, and we recognize that preparing now by instituting strict rotation delivery of water will help us make our water last as long as possible.”

Currently, snowpacks are less than half of what they should be, he said.

Lack of snow this year will mean a lack of runoff for irrigation. “Snow pack was better last year. We expect El Vado (dam) to fill this year. But native flows fed by snow pack to the river is where we’re hurting,” Blair said.

The situation will change only if there’s a heavy monsoon season this summer or more snow, Blair said.

“If there’s a long cool spring, the snow pack will make its way down slowly, which is good for the water supply, but if there’s one hot week, the river will be so heavy with run-off, that would be the end of it,” she said. “We’re hoping it stays in the mountains as long as it can, and we have a long slow snow melt. If it heads down the river in a large flow, we can’t make good use of it.”

The conservancy depends on the water held in the El Vado Dam near Chama and the water in the Rio Grande.

“We have to watch what Mother Nature is doing and be as careful with the resources as we can,” Blair added.

Every spring, the conservancy decides how much water to release for irrigation based on the amount of water available.

“Last year, we ended up with more snow pack and the monsoon bailed us out,” she said.

The conservancy meets regularly with other state and federal water managers the Interstream Commission, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Conser-vancy and the City of Albu-querque telephoning one another every morning to “fine tune the river,” Blair said.

What can farmers do to conserve water? “We encourage people to laser level their fields 80 percent plus of the large farms in Valencia and Socorro counties are laser leveled,” she said. “… Farmers can flood their fields quickly and efficiently.”

The conservancy district is also experimenting with drip irrigation, but “it’s problematic in the Southwest because, apparently, gophers, are very fond of the plumbing,” Blair said.

Blair urged people to call her office, 247-0234, if they do not know the name of their ditch rider. Or they can call the district office in Belen at 864-7466.

In a related matter, Blair said she wants to warn people not to build fires in the bosque because brush fires can be the result.

“Fires are not allowed in the bosque anywhere. If people see any activity, they should call authorities,” she said.

And, she added, ditches are dangerous. “Everyone should stay away from the ditches and not use them as swimming pools.”

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Katherine Saltzstein