The federal water managers will have more breathing room this spring, as the record snowpack and spring runoff has allowed them to benefit from two Southwestern rivers which provide New Mexico with drinking water and irrigation supply and Texas with water for drinking and irrigation.
The National Weather Service forecasters delivered good news to water managers, farmers and cities Tuesday as federal officials unveiled operating plans for Rio Grande and Pecos rivers.
Last winter, the mountain ranges of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico which serve as the headwaters of the two rivers saw nearly twice the amount snow that was averaged in the past. This resulted in runoff which will give a boost to reservoirs.
Even more snowmelt is expected to reach rivers and streams, since soil moisture levels recovered last summer after one of the strongest rains in the region’s history.
This is great news because the soils have been so dry that they have absorbed a large amount of runoff in the past 10 to 15 years, before we ever got any. This will not be the case as much this season,” said Andrew Mangham a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “We will have much more efficient runoff as a result of this.”
Around the West, we see the same thing. The Sierra Nevada snowpack was responsible for filling most of California‘s reservoirs above their average levels at the beginning of spring. The snowfall in Nevada was so heavy that the final day for the high school skiing championships had been cancelled.
The officials who attended the river briefing on Tuesday were trying to remember when they had last seen hydrology graphs so favorable.
Mangham stated that “we’re in better condition than we have been in a long time.”
New Mexico’s biggest cities, which rely on water diverted from the San Juan River and the Chama River to function, are expected to receive a full allocation of water this year for the first time in 2019.
Due to increased runoff, the Carlsbad Irrigation District at the southern end Pecos River decided to give a little bit more money to farmers.
Coley Burgess is the irrigation district manager. “With snowmelt on the way and the possibility of a monsoon, things look pretty good,” he said.
He said that farmers had to be very careful about how they used what is just a little bit over half of an allotment. Some farmers have left unplanted fields to shift water allocations from their worst alfalfa crop.
Managers on the Rio Grande say that they have enough stored water in Elephant Butte, the largest reservoir in New Mexico, to avoid restrictions which prevent the storage of water in certain upstream reservoirs. New Mexico must deliver an annual amount of water to Texas under a water-sharing agreement with Colorado.
A lawsuit pending in the U.S. Supreme Court involves the states and the management of Rio Grande. A special master is evaluating a proposal settlement that could end the decade-long battle.
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The monsoon will determine whether New Mexico can maintain enough water at Elephant Butte in the later part of this year.
The farmers of southern New Mexico, as well as those in West Texas, will also be crossing their fingers.