Water’s coming, better prepare the canals! No, these aren’t the spoofed lyrics to an old rock and roll song. It’s a reminder that irrigation season in the Mesilla and south valley is imminent. The District is pushing hard to finish canal cleaning, removing trash and debris to allow water to be safely delivered to farm fields and orchards without hazard to the public.
Unfortunately, despite public education reminders, the canals are often used as a dumping ground and it is an ongoing task to keep them free of obstructing trash. EBID Treasurer-Manager Gary Esslinger and Irrigations Systems Director James Narvaez have been inspecting the canals to ensure all is ready. Employees are running backhoes to haul large trash out of the delivery system, others are mowing and burning weeds, brush and other plant debris that accumulates over the season. They hauled off five dump truck loads just in one day.
The final days of this preparation are hectic, and crews try to time the work close enough that it “stays done” without plants regrowing too fast or people throwing trash back in the canals prior to them filling with irrigation water.
Narvaez says, “Over the off season there’s quite a bit of build up from just the weather and weeds blowing in but we also have a real bad spot here in the middle of town.” In the area around Brown Road a lot of city trash accumulates. “We try to keep on top of it, but it seems like we go through once and the next day its filled back up. There are so many people that live along the canal banks, especially in the middle of town. Right now we’re trying to get some of the bulky stuff out before the water starts flowing. It’s a constant battle. The Covid virus isn’t helping. We’ve already done two official sweeps through there; this is going to be our third.”
EBID coordinates with the public works staff of the City of Las Cruces and codes enforcement along with the Las Cruces Police Department as they work to maintain these ditches and canals, especially around culverts that cross city streets, which the city retains responsibility for.
Esslinger explains, “The contract that we have for cleaning as a joint effort is really outdated. Right now Zack Libbin (District Engineer), myself and the city public works staff are working on upgrading it to today’s standards of what both the City of Las Cruces and EBID need to do.”
This year, the public health and safety concerns are magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Narvaez is empathetic, “In the midst of this whole Covid and the tightening down of people not able to go to certain locations, people don’t have a place to stay anymore. We’re seeing a lot more of them living alongside the canal banks and inside the culverts under the city streets. There has definitely been a big uptick in that this year, but we’re trying to stay on top of it. We do our best because they are part of the community too and we try to give them a heads-up.”
The trash in the canal is a big problem, but the District is persistent to clear the waterways. Over one hundred years’ experience with irrigation seasons has honed EBID into a well-managed startup routine. Late spring is a time of hectic activity along the canals, with burning, weed control, mowing and other preventative maintenance. The District also works on grading the banks for EBID operational and maintenance vehicles. Narvaez says, “It’s all a timing thing because if you do it too early it grows back and to bring everybody back out it becomes a nightmare.” Spring challenges due to wind and burning restrictions complicate the job. “As soon as we get our green light it’s all hands-on deck and we’ll send a crew out to burn as much as possible, says Narvaez, “It’s not so much just to burn all the stuff but it’s to get rid of the trash so that we don’t have these pileups. It’s also just preventative maintenance, especially for the culverts…it protects the community, especially where the canals go through town. It doesn’t take much to block up a culvert and then overflows happen.”
Narvaez says the District tries to time the canal maintenance as close as they can to the start of the season. “We have a lot of safe herbicide sprayers out there; in a couple weeks the weeds should die off so we can send the mowers through one more time and prepare,” he explains. Esslinger notes that timing the cleaning can be a problem and pointed out a lateral near Mesilla Dam where trash had been collecting, “Unfortunately, it was mowed over then left in a wet mess when irrigation water from pumping collected in the area. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Final preparation time is short for the District as the water deliveries will begin around May 18th. This coming weekend, over May 16-17th the District will begin running water through the system to flush the canals so they’re ready for surface water deliveries. On May 4th the Water Records Department opened to begin taking irrigation water orders. Narvaez says, “Orders came in at a pretty decent clip.” Esslinger notes that orders are coming fairly consistently now, and the District is close to their target order threshold. “So if you’re really ready for it, get your water orders and signed rental agreements in because that does dictate what we’re doing,” Narvaez encourages.
The EBID Water Records Department is hard at work, manning the phones and communicating by email. Narvaez says they’re pleased that the community is participating well via email exchange. “It’s good for us. We’re actually building our data base now and we want to keep that momentum. It will only improve as we go along but we’re getting a lot of uptick on the emails, faxes and phone calls; it makes it more efficient too. Farmers can call the Water Records Department Monday through Friday 7:30-4:30 at 575-524-8003 or email them at email@example.com.
EBID is an essential business and Esslinger says, “We’ve been releasing water and working for over a month now up in Hatch. Our safety record is right on point. We haven’t had any slowdown or need to stop because the Board gave us the opportunity back in early March to prepare ourselves for this virus.” Narvaez agrees, “We’ve taken a proactive approach; we’re really ahead of a lot of the Governor’s mandates even for ourselves.”
The District’s inventory of hand sanitizer, masks and everything necessary to provide a safe environment puts them on track with the ability to re-open their headquarters office soon when the Governor makes the official announcement. Esslinger says, “In fact, we’ve ordered 250 masks with our EBID logo on them and we will issue those out to our employees when they get here. We have an anticipated target date of May 18th and are prepared to open up our office in compliance with state mandated safety measures. We’ll have sneeze guards and all of the signage necessary by then so we can let people in to see our engineering and permitting department and pay their bills in water records.” The Board is meeting virtually online tomorrow and will have further information regarding the upcoming season, including flat rate irrigations. The District appreciates the public’s awareness and help in making 2020 a successful irrigation season.