After a great day-and-a-half gathering of the New Mexico water nerds in Silver City (the 61st annual New Mexico Water Conference, put on by New Mexico State University’s Water Resources Research Institute, I took a leisurely drive this afternoon along one of my favorite stretches of the Rio Grande.
The Hatch Valley (more formally known as the “Rincon Valley”, but if you’ve ever eaten the chiles you’ll know why the “Hatch” name stuck) is a working landscape, and the Rio Grande here is a river turned in service of that work. Two big reservoirs, Elephant Butte and Caballo, regulate the river’s flow into the valley, and that flow is entirely managed to meet the needs of farming and other human water uses.
The interstate hugs bluffs along the valley’s eastern edge, but if I have time I always take NM 187 along the valley floor. It doesn’t take much longer. It’s a way to see how we use water in New Mexico, turning it out of the river and growing stuff with it. It’s the tail end of chile season, I smelled some onions, I saw an old pump chugging up some groundwater onto an alfalfa field to squeeze out another cutting, and big stretches of pecan orchards.
But the river itself?
There was still some standing water in the Rio Grande’s channel. But when I got out to Percha Dam, the irrigation diversion structure at the head of the valley, the river itself was dry. This is a river entirely managed for human use. On Oct. 1, they turned it off.
As I said, it’s one of my favorite stretches of the Rio Grande. But it’s really weird to see a river turned off.