Late monsoonal rains have provided some surprise inflow to Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs. Dr. Phil King, EBID’s hydrology consultant, reported at the District’s monthly board meeting that Project storage has increased by about 30,000 acre-feet since the September board meeting. Since the reservoir releases ceased in August, Elephant Butte Reservoir has gained about 47,000 acre-feet, and Caballo reservoir is up by 28,000 acre-feet.
King said that although there have been above average flows throughout most of the river stretch in recent days including 1,500 acre-feet per day coming into Elephant Butte, “It’s a temporary ‘flash in the pan’.”
“The Rio Grande Project was built and lives on snowmelt runoff from southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico (the watershed headwaters), and that’s what has cratered,” King explained, “We still get the monsoonal inflow spikes like we’re getting right now, but we’re not getting the ‘meat and potatoes’ which is the spring snowmelt runoff.” Spring snowmelt runoff occurs during the period from March through July. Even with average precipitation in the upper watershed, only 35 percent of the median spring runoff made it to San Marcial at the head of Elephant Butte Reservoir. This is going to be problematic going forward, he predicts. The hot dry outlook for the next few months means that the region will most likely experience a lean table once again in 2023.
Although the U.S. Drought Monitor seems to show easing drought conditions, “This is a shallow indicator,” King says, “It looks at surface conditions, not deep soil moisture and aquifer levels.” A third year of La Niña is driving the persistent drought conditions and it will take significant winter snowpack to effectively make its way to Elephant Butte Reservoir next spring.
The District expects another later start for the 2023 surface water irrigation season. Current seasonal supply sits at 143,996 acre feet. King says, “Elephant Butte Reservoir is at 6% of capacity. That is a pretty good indication that we are still in persistent drought.” Farmers are cautioned to prepare for another low allotment year, on the order of six inches.
District Treasurer-Manager Dr. Patrick Sullivan reported that there will be no assessment increases for the upcoming fiscal year.
The District’s maintenance season will begin with major construction projects within the next few days. During the off-season employees are tackling infrastructure maintenance jobs that are not possible during the active irrigation season, including canal and drain cleaning, gate repairs and construction, and general equipment maintenance.
Seasonal updates will be shared here on the District website at www.ebid-nm.org and on their FaceBook page as they become available.