The 70,000-square-acre-feet of water that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) borrowed from the City of Albuquerque in early June will likely run out before the2002 irrigating season is done.

“We will probably run out of water by Sept. 15,” said Subhas Shah, chief engineer and executive officer for the conservancy.

Shah along with the MRGCD Board of Directors met Monday night at Belen City Hall. With their Albuquerque office under renovation, the board has traveled twice to Belen and twice to Socorro, giving citizens the opportunity to ask questions regarding water policies.

On Tuesday night, only 12 county citizens showed up at the meeting, as Shah explained the increase in water demand.

“The demand in Socorro and Belen has increased,” Shah said. “If we keep on saving the water, it might last a little longer.”

There was some board discussion about borrowing water from Albuquerque, which has some water stored at the Abiquiu Reservoir.

“The City of Albuquerque has about 25,000 square feet of water left and we don’t know if the city is willing to give that up,” Shah said.

Even if the conservancy were able to borrow more water from Albuquerque, Shah estimates that it would only last about a week.

One citizen at Tuesday’s meeting pointed out that one week would not make a difference, as farmers are on a 25-day rotation system for water.

The conservancy will not shut down irrigation ditches and water will be running in the Rio Grande after Sept. 15. However, the amount of water left over by the time it reaches Valencia County is not expected to be enough to meet agricultural needs.

“What can we do? There’s not a whole lot you can do, but pray for rain,” said Angelo Baca, president of the Farm and Livestock Bureau for Valencia County, in a telephone interview.

Baca and his family, including D.R. Baca and his son, Ramon, farm about 400 acres of alfalfa in the Adelino-Tomé area. With water expected to run out in mid-September, the Bacas and other county farmers will most likely not get in a fourth or fifth alfalfa cutting.

“Any kind of loss will hurt our farmers and ranchers, especially the way the economy is,” said Joel Alderete, responsible for nine counties including Valencia as regional director of the Farm and Livestock Bureau.

“We are in a drought, so we are thankful for what water we got,” Alderete said. “It could have been worse.”

Baca echoed Alderete’s sentiments and expressed gratitude for being able to farm this long. If MRGCD did not borrow water from Albuquerque this season, county farmers would have been forced to close shop earlier.

“We are fortunate that we just got this far with the drought,” Baca said. “We could have been out in June. We did the best we could with what we had.”

“We’ve weathered them (droughts) out before. I don’t think anyone would plant something like winter wheat unless they were optimistic.”

Dairy farmers have had the opportunity to store hay for the winter, but for cattle ranchers on the open range, it’s a different story.

“For those with cattle out on the ranges, it’s going to be a pretty costly thing,” Baca said. “There’s going to be a lot of people selling out.”

Chuck Dumars, attorney for the MRGCD Board, blames the Fish and Wildlife Service for the current water supply shortage.

“In the year 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service insisted on running over 200 acre feet in one year, which drained the storage down, that’s where we are now,” Dumars said.

Looking to water availability next year, a lot depends on getting enough snowfall up north this winter.

“If we don’t get some kind of winter, we’ll be seriously hurting next year,” Alderete said. “I looked at Heron Lake and Abiquiu two weeks ago and they’re all pretty well drained.”

Considering Heron Lake, Shah thinks that would be a source of water for the conservancy in 2003.

“We have 20,000 acre feet in Heron Lake; that would be available next year,” Shah said.

Shah’s Albuquerque office gets plenty of calls regarding water, especially in this drought season, but he points out that water use is limited to its availability.

“People call me, but I tell them I can’t produce water,” Shah said.

In the meantime, hope depends on a bountiful winter snowfall up north.

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Bruce Warren