On the U.S. part of the Rio Grande, the San Luis Valley is where most farming takes place

In water management, it’s normal to zero in on one’s local geography and not think about the larger system – especially when state lines carve up a watershed. Thus, faced with a terrible snowpack year on the Rio Grande, we’re having three largely separate conversations about agricultural water management on the U.S. part of the Rio Grande:

  • The San Luis Valley (the headwaters valley in Colorado)
  • The “Middle Rio Grande” (that stretch through Albuquerque where I live)
  • The “Lower Rio Grande” – New Mexico south of Elephant Butte Reservoir, plus El Paso County in Texas

Here is some interesting data by way of comparison about how people are using the water in those three sub-watersheds. It’s total crop revenue, which is a good measure of how much farming is happening in each place. Water people are often surprised to learn that the San Luis Valley is, by this measure, the most productive part of the system. These are 2016 (the most recent year available) total crop revenue numbers from the Department of Commerce.

  • Middle Rio Grande: $16.1 million
  • Lower Rio Grande: $376 million
  • San Luis Valley: $412 million