Articles 2017

Weed Control 101
EBID Members Receiveing Over-pumping Letters from the OSE
State of the Aquifer: Update with Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs
National Ag Day: Thank a Farmer
The Road Less Traveled: EBID and the Roads Act
Community Agencies Conduct Dam Breach/Flooding Table Top Exercise

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Weed Control 101

Karen Ray for EBID
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Elephant Butte Irrigation District's ongoing battle against weeds stretches across hundreds of miles of canals and laterals. Piping of some irrigation canals results not only in water savings but savings of energy, time and herbicide to spray the weeds off open ditches. This translates economically and environmentally to a healthier bottom line. However, due to piping cost and the sheer size of the District, they must rely primarily on traditional spraying.

The District's Maintenance Director, Leo Barrett says, "Staying on top of these weeds is a big part of what we do during the maintenance season. The job requires a great amount of skill, eye - hand coordination and understanding what they're mowing, because they've got all kinds of obstacles in their way." These obstacles include gates, turnouts and concrete headers, all of which do not respond well to being impacted by a piece of heavy equipment. The District counts on well-trained equipment operators to handle this job throughout the year.

Complications include an increase in spray-resistant weeds across the country and the District is no exception. Staying on top of the issue is an ongoing challenge. Another aspect of weed control is managing "drift." Experts at explain, "As spray drift occurs, a portion of the spray mix does not reach the target site, so the herbicide dose applied will be less than intended, often leading to poor or erratic control, and a waste of herbicide, time, and money."

Trained District operators use extreme caution to avoid this, ensuring that application rates are not harmful to animals or pedestrians who walk along the canal banks. Variables that go in to making the decision on how and when to spray for weeds are wind speed and direction, temperatures and chance of rain.

EBID practices careful and efficient use of herbicides, managing drift by controlling flow rate in spray applications and by careful direction of spray nozzles as well as monitoring of wind and weather conditions.

Barrett explains that the District uses an additive to minimize the drift. This changes the pH level of the water the herbicide is mixed with so the chemical bonds to the weeds. Herbicides used are also non-volatizing, staying on the weeds, not in the air. This helps the District accomplish cost effective weed control while protecting people, pets and desired plants; everything but the weed.

State of the Aquifer: Update with Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs

EBID Report
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The valley is beginning to green up, spring winds remind us the season is changing and farmers are managing early crops, irrigated with groundwater before the surface water season begins.

Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District recently discussed groundwater trends with the EBID Board of Directors in a report on the Rincon/Hatch and Mesilla Valley aquifers. Working closely with EBID's Technology Director, Patrick Lopez, and a team of other specialists and engineers at the District, he compiled and analyzed data from monitoring wells throughout the region. He explains that he uses Geospatial modeling based on groundwater table elevation measurements with precision instruments to calculate where and to what extent changes in shallow aquifer storage within the EBID are occurring on an annual basis."

His assessment of 2016 groundwater trends is encouraging. He notes that his work focuses on the annual end of year net change in the shallow alluvium in recent years and said "variation within the year, particularly during the active irrigation season is important to keep an eye on, but it is the comparison of year end to year end response of the aquifer in December of each year, when irrigation pumping has largely ceased and the water table reaches a new relative equilibrium, that we then can see what the changes in shallow aquifer storage have been." He points out, "Pumping effects at depths below the shallow alluvium where aquifer storage properties are different may not be realized at the water table for a number of years, but will tend to persist much longer."

Hatch/ Rincon Valley

As residents know, there isn't much of an aquifer in this area. Fuchs says, "The aquifer there is really little more than an extension of the river bed itself, expanding spatially into the adjacent floodplain to a limited extent, but is otherwise a relatively narrow and very shallow system comprised almost exclusively of alluvium sediments. Very different, especially in terms of depth, than what we have down here in the Mesilla. They've only got about 55 feet on average of saturated thickness to work with."

Fuchs examined data from EBID's 13 monitoring sites in the Hatch/Rincon Valley as well as from several USGS sites, giving a good overview of the system. In consultation with EBID's Operations Director, James Narvaez, they found that in 2016 there were almost 16,000 acres irrigated in this area, a small reduction from the typical 17,000 acres in active cultivation in the Hatch/Rincon Valley. The average groundwater table elevation decline over the last seven years is presently just over two feet. This may not seem like much, but is very important in a system that doesn't have much aquifer thickness to spare to begin with. Fuchs says this is nevertheless an improvement compared to just a couple of years ago, showing that the system is currently gaining. The cumulative net storage loss since 2010 is now at about 12,500 acre-feet. Modest gains in storage began in 2014 and persisted through this last year. "That's a very good thing because they needed to see some relief up there," he says, "In 2013, with the very scant surface water allotment of only 3.5 acre-inches per acre we had then, most of the growers up in the Rincon Valley hit a wall of sorts. Given the shallow, narrow system that they have to work with and limited groundwater in storage under to begin with, that is understandable."

There were gains throughout the system in 2016, and EBID's GIS Analyst, Dennis McCarville, worked with Fuchs in creating maps to illustrate where and to what extent the changes in shallow aquifer storage have occurred over the last several years. Fuchs says the farming community is adapting to the harsh realities of drought conditions and noted, "We're seeing some stabilization [in groundwater elevations] in the Rincon, which is encouraging. I think a big part of the reason for this is a change in cropping patterns. There has been adjustment from double or triple crops to single crops, staying with the mainstays mostly of chile, onions, and some cotton."

He also credits captured stormwater with contributing to gains in storage, pointing out that although a deficit situation remains, particularly between Garfield and Salem, that same area saw some of the greatest gains in 2016. "That's encouraging," he says, "It's apparent that the farming community up there is aware of where their problems are and they're addressing those by changing cropping patterns and making adjustments to the distribution of pumping."

Salts remain an issue in the Rincon Valley, and have become somewhat worse in recent years. Impeded drainage due to lack of channel maintenance in the Rio Grande is a major factor in salt accumulation. Zach Libbin, EBID's Engineer, worked with Fuchs in coordination with USGS to facilitate re-drilling of a shallow monitoring site in that area so it could be instrumented with water quality sensors. They want to keep a close eye on salt accumulation in the area. "Patrick Lopez (EBID Technology Director) is expanding our program in the Rincon and the Mesilla Valleys," says Fuchs, "taking measurements of specific conductance to estimate TDS (total dissolved solids) over all of our monitoring sites. That's going to be excellent data. We'll have the most comprehensive data set on TDS in the Lower Rio Grande."

The Hatch/Rincon Valley is quick to lose groundwater from storage in response to pumping stress, acknowledges Fuchs, "But it's quick to gain as well. The losses are felt greater and more immediately because there simply isn't much of a groundwater buffer to work with. The annual rate of loss remains greater than the rate of gain, but I want to stress that things are gaining up there." Farmer and EBID board member Jerry Franzoy observes that the relative health of the aquifer in the Hatch Valley has improved and says that monitoring of groundwater levels throughout the District has been valuable to the farmers. Local precipitation during the winter also helped some farmers hold off on pumping groundwater to irrigate their spring onions he said.


Fuchs describes the aquifer in the Mesilla Valley as "deep and robust" and says EBID has it instrumented with monitoring sites and sensors pretty well, particularly in the shallow alluvium. Cultivation numbers in 2016 showed about 52,000 acres in the Mesilla that were irrigated through EBID, down about 11,000 acres from the average. Fuchs says the reduction in irrigated acreage reflects apparent fallowing of row crops, and seasonal stacking or temporary transfers of EBID surface water from fallowed land to other acreage in cultivation, such as permanent pecan orchards. This helps replace some amount of groundwater pumping that would otherwise occur, particularly in pecan production.

The take home message from the groundwater data in the District's Central area is that the cumulative average net change in year-end shallow groundwater elevations now sits at -5.9 feet, an improvement over the cumulative average seven foot decline observed just a couple of years ago. Of course, water table declines during the irrigation season in any given year while wells are actually running is much greater. Cumulative net loss from shallow storage from 2010 through 2016 in the Mesilla is calculated to be about 137,000 acre-feet. Just a couple of years ago, the cumulative loss was well over 160,000 acre-feet. "Things are improving," Fuchs says, "We're gaining across the board in the Mesilla as well." Gains began to be seen in 2015 with 2016 showing substantial gains. "I'm encouraged, and I think this is a testament to the proactivity and organization of farming interests in the area where we've otherwise seen some of the greatest losses in recent years," he says, "The farming community in the Mesilla Valley, like the Rincon Valley, is mindful of where their problems are and are going to considerable effort and expense to try and address them. I'm encouraged by that and proud of our farmer's commitment to agronomic adaption to ongoing drought."

The aquifer in the Mesilla is also quick to lose, but not quite as quick to gain as the Rincon, Fuchs notes, "But you have a significant groundwater buffer to work with. I want to draw attention to the fact that it is presently gaining. That is very encouraging."

Fuchs asserts. "The Operating Agreement is working; downstream EPCWID No.1 is being kept whole. EBID farmers have clearly suffered the hardships of drought, but the more recent gains in the aquifer are measurable and unmistakable. We're successfully enduring what I would characterize as the worst drought in the history of the Rio Grande Project." However, noting the diminished capacity of Elephant Butte Reservoir, he warns that drought conditions in the region are far from over. It could be some time before full or even close to full surface water allotments can be expected. "We're not out of the woods yet."

Lobbying for increased Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU) metering of groundwater pumping, Fuchs says, "We need to explore the potential for more growers to come forward and participate in EBID's telemetry program." The program aids farmers and can also provide critical information and benefit to the Office of the State Engineer. Data collected by Lopez, developer of the District's RTU system, is accurate, reliable and, stresses Fuchs, it is real time. Monitoring units have been upgraded, says Lopez, to better suit harsh environmental conditions. "Once the installation occurs," Fuchs says, "EBID takes over the maintenance and management of the telemetry units." He hopes to see some economic incentives made available to help farmers increase their participation in EBID's RTU metering program.

EBID Manager Gary Esslinger expressed interest in working with the State Engineer and the legislature to expand this RTU metering program as it would benefit everyone. He noted that in the past the state had programs in place to provide low interest rate loans to farmers to implement something like this, but those have fallen by the wayside. He says, "If every one of these [wells] had real time data on it, it would be so easy to keep track of groundwater pumping for accounting and other purposes."

In summary, although the magnitude of change differs between the Rincon and the Mesilla Valleys because they are different systems with different demands, the trend of increases in shallow aquifer storage over the last couple of years in response to gradual increases in the EBID surface water allotment is basically the same, Fuchs says. It may be a while before we're seeing full allotment years, he acknowledges, but if the District were to receive four consecutive years of full surface water allotments beginning this year, although unlikely, he estimates that full recovery of the shallow aquifer to end of 2009 conditions might be expected. The annual surface water allotment and the farming community's adaptation to the harsh realities of drought both factor into careful stewardship of limited water resources.

National Ag Day: Thank a Farmer

by Karen Ray
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National Ag Day is March 21st, so thank a farmer for food to eat and clothes to wear. And thank the hard working team at Elephant Butte Irrigation District for helping to ensure folks get the irrigation water necessary to grow those crops. In fact, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager Gary Esslinger has a bumper sticker that reads "No Farm, No Food."

According to this year's theme is "Agriculture: Food for Life" and 2017 marks the 44th anniversary. Events are planned in communities across the country to honor the men and women who make agricultural production possible and to tell the story of American agriculture.

National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America, nonprofit organization, dedicated to increasing the public's awareness of agriculture's role in modern society. The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

Sierra County will celebrate Ag day with a "Down on the Farm" event this Friday, March 17 starting at 9:00 a.m. at Desert Springs Produce, Gillis Farms, Arrey, NM. The event is dedicated to the children of the community. Their goal is to demonstrate the various aspects of the agriculture industry, delighting the kids and "showing them where their food, clothing and shelter comes from. We want to plant a seed of encouragement, water it with knowledge, and shed light on the many diverse areas of agriculture. We realize the importance of teaching the younger generation." EBID will be featuring their custom irrigation display trailer at the event.

Chuy Morales, an engineer technician with EBID likes to ask school kids, "Who benefits from agriculture? Where do you think (food) comes from?" And the question with a universal answer, "Have you guys ever eaten?" He then leads them through the process of thinking about where all the ingredients for their favorite foods comes from; the grapes and apples in their lunch, the corn and alfalfa to raise beef or allow dairy cows to produce the cheese on their tacos, the chile that goes in their mama's best salsa recipe. He leaves them with, "If you guys have ever eaten anything, thank a farmer. Thank someone that's been out there in the fields taking care of and working there on the farm."

Dr. Phil King, engineering and hydrology consultant for EBID, is cautiously optimistic about the water supply forecast for the 2017 irrigation season. He says river flows are running at average levels, delivering about 1700 acre feet per day into the system. However, current snowpack is about 146% SWE and Wolf Creek Summit still has another two months to go before it hits its typical peak snow level. King informed the board that there are 258,000 acre feet of releasable water available in storage to allocate for 2017 at this point. This translates to an estimated 7.5 inch allotment. The district's board of directors will meet on 3/24 to set the water allotment for this year.

EBID irrigated 73,303 acres with surface water across the district in 2016. Farmers raised cotton, forage, pecans, chile and a variety of vegetables, grains and fruit, providing critical resources and positive impact on southern New Mexico's economy and beyond as those Ag products were shipped around the world.

The Road Less Traveled: EBID and the Roads Act

EBID Staff Report
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Municipalities and counties are continually improving and often widening roads. At times this means that they want to use irrigation district canal banks for public roads. This would subject irrigation districts to liability that they are currently not subject to under Section 41-4-11 of the Tort Claims Act. Elephant Butte Irrigation District operates, maintains, and owns the irrigation distribution system of the Rio Grande Project, including the canals, laterals, drains, wasteways, canal/drain banks, and structures. These facilities are used only by the District to conduct their business and are not open for public use without a special use permit or other written agreement. However, in some areas, district property provides a potentially decent location for public road for access to private property.

EBID has a Right of Use Policy and an agreement with the City of Las Cruces and Dona Ana County, and NMDOT which addresses, lists and permits those roads that cross EBID facilities. However, several DAC roads paralleling EBID facilities, on EBID property or Right of Ways, have been improved without EBID's permission across the county. Several other roads exist without EBID's permission and without adequate improvements. All roads paralleling EBID facilities create an unresolved liability issue for both DAC and EBID.

The proposed amendment, called the Roads Act (HB 164 and SB 178), would allow irrigation districts to permit the use of their canal bank property for use as public roads built and maintained by other public entities, without being subjected to additional liability.

"It was the Kit Carson Road near Rincon that brought this issue to a head," explains Lee Peters, legal counsel for EBID, "The County built a narrow road in between an EBID drain and EBID canal that carries large trucks, school buses, etc." This road is an example of an unpermitted road that's improvements have hit a standstill due to the need for a permit from EBID that properly addresses liability. Peters said, "This legislation would solve both this problem and others like it. EBID could issue the permit to expand the road, provided the County enters into an agreement with them that meets the legal requirements. There are more than 80 existing County roads on EBID property that need to come into compliance with EBID permitting processes, once this law goes into effect. There are other roads that the County, as well as the State and the City of Las Cruces, want to put in that would then be allowable with this amendment.

In 2007 the Legislature passed into law language allowing for irrigation district canal banks to be used for recreational trails without incurring liability. This "Trails Act" was a huge success because it has allowed for trails to be built around the city and created the opportunity for many future recreational trail opportunities. Similar language in the current proposed amendment would serve the same purpose and allow use of district land as roads.

Similar versions of this bill came very close to fruition in 2014 and 2015. The Attorney General, along with other state officials, revised that language in 2014, resulting in a House Agriculture Committee Substitute for HB 165 and Senate Conservation Committee Substitute for SB100. Peters explained, "The bills received 'do pass' recommendations from several committees and the House bill passed the House of Representatives, but both bills died on adjournment."

Further work in 2015 saw the bills through various committees but dying in the Senate Judiciary. 2016 was strictly a financial session, so no progress was made on this issue. To date, according to EBID manager Gary Esslinger, "Four bills matching the current HB164 have gone through seven committees and twice through the House unanimously." Previous revisions were made to the bill and it now meets the requirements of the Attorney General. Irrigation and conservancy districts have extensive and unique property holdings that other entities do not possess. The Legislature has the right to carve out exceptions to waivers of immunity to fit the circumstances of these special governmental units.

Currently, during the 2017 Legislative Session, the bill has successfully gone through two House committees and one Senate committee. Esslinger has traveled to Santa Fe several times this session and attended the third reading on the House Floor, showing that this bill is clearly important to EBID. As of Monday, 2/27 SB 178 received a do pass without objection from the Senate Judiciary as amended. Peters says, SB 178 now goes to the Senate floor and HB 164 is awaiting committee hearings in the Senate. He explained that if either bill makes it through both the House and the Senate, it will then go to the Governor for her approval and to become law.

EBID seeks to cooperatively resolve the problematic situations caused by these unpermitted roads and remedy those dangerous areas that do not allow adequate space for the district to perform maintenance. Passage of the Roads Act will help begin this process.

Community Agencies Conduct Dam Breach/Flooding Table Top Exercise

by Karen Ray for EBID
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Many of us drive by dams such as Tortugas #1 east of NMSU without giving them a second thought. It is reassuring to know that area agencies meet regularly to proactively address public safety, practicing how best to protect the people and property within their jurisdiction in the event of an emergency.

The Dona Ana County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in partnership with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) recently held a "table top" exercise to prepare for the unlikely event of a dam breach or overtop. The exercise centered around the Tortugas #1 Dam, which EBID is responsible for operating and maintaining.

In addition to its responsibilities to deliver irrigation water, EBID also sponsors five dams: Picacho North, Picacho South, Lucero, Dona Ana North, and Tortugas #1, and co-sponsors 21 more, along with the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Dona Ana County Flood Commission.

Community agencies identified as having a critical role in the event of a dam emergency were invited. Agencies including the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer Dam Safety Bureau, New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Dona Ana County Office of Emergency Management, Dona Ana County Flood Commission, City of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University, and many others participated in the exercising and review of the Emergency Action Plan for Tortugas 1 Dam.

The large group met at the new Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority (MVRDA) facility in Las Cruces. Training Officer Lt. Ron Schulmeister with the Las Cruces City Fire Department walked workshop participants through several scenarios based on various potential breach threats to the dam located near the New Mexico State University Golf Course and the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

One of the scenarios read: "At 9 a.m. Wednesday, August 23, 2017, an EBID employee checking on the status of the dam observes water flowing over the auxiliary spillway. A sizable quantity of water is flowing downstream of the dam. The downstream arroyo is rapidly eroding."

Different entities weighed in on what actions the Emergency Action Plan called for and what procedures they would expect to follow in the given scenarios, including who they would contact and when. They discussed how the situation would be monitored to determine if further action needed to be taken. Public safety was the primary focus as they utilized a series of flood inundation maps that are part of the Emergency Action Plan prepared by EBID.

As the groups were provided new scenarios, they discussed among themselves, arriving at a plan of action. The operation of the dam remains the responsibility of EBID but evacuation of the public is the responsibility of other entities and emergency responders who are notified by EBID that a situation is a non-failure emergency, a potential failure emergency, or an imminent failure emergency. Then Schulmeister led them through the process of sharing their input with the other entities, everyone working together to clarify the process, practicing in the event of the real thing. The Emergency Action Plan laid out directions for most steps of the response to the scenario but "What if?" questions were raised also and solutions put forth to possible unexpected situations like road washouts or equipment failures.

In the event of a flooding concern some agencies would provide evaluation and notification, others would activate appropriate evacuations, each taking flexible action as needed to deal with that particular situation's threat level. EBID Manager Gary Esslinger discussed the communication process the district would follow, starting with consulting with District Engineer Zack Libbin to evaluate the situation. The steps followed repeated a process of emergency evaluation, communication, and expected actions.

The group noted that an Emergency Operation Center could be activated to begin coordinating response and related coordinated action. John Gwynne, Engineer Supervisor at Dona Ana County Flood Commission, brought up that access to the area around a dam structure is always a concern and must be addressed. Libbin commented that evacuation maps have been prepared for the different scenarios and would be appropriately utilized. MRVDA said that their agency is able to put out 38,000 phone calls in 12 minutes to notify people if necessary.

The group repeated the process again with a further developing situation, more advanced flooding threats with water close to top of the dam, the spillway eroding, and seepage through the dam developing. Agencies practiced what they would do in the event of this unlikely but critical emergency, not only following their developed action plans but brainstorming how to make the process even more efficient and effective.

As noted in a recent EBID article regarding the South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (SCNMSMC) and dam safety, "It is critical that sponsors put forth the money and effort necessary to maintain the dam structures but additional funding is needed. After fifty plus years of protecting primarily farmland, today dams also protect communities, greatly complicating the safety factor." It is in light of this concern for public safety the OEM and EBID conducted the training exercise. The scout motto of "Be Prepared" is as relevant today as it ever was.

Rio Grande wave front north of Hatch, NM at 8:00 pm May 25th, 2014. Photographed by Zack Libbin.
This photo and images on the main page were enhanced by Darrol Shillingburg.
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