Central New Mexico water agency cutting back some of its irrigators

Reservoir levels dropped over the weekend past a critical trigger point, causing the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to curtail water deliveries this week to about 5,000 acres of farmland in central New Mexico.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District water in Albuquerque’s North Valley, June 2018

With El Vado Reservoir on the Rio Chama just 26 percent full, the decision to cut deliveries to the MRGCD’s “water bank” irrigators was inevitable. These are farmers who had sold off their senior water rights, mostly to cities, but are stilled allowed to irrigate for a higher fee and subject to the availability of a pool of “surplus” water.

That “surplus” (I put scare quotes around this because there’s a serious policy argument about whether such a surplus really exists, and whether the “water bank” is a good idea) doesn’t exist in this very dry year.

The acreage here – 5,000 acres – is interesting. Water bank acreage had been running at about 2,000 acres per year in recent years. The jump is likely not an actual increase in irrigated acres, but rather appears to be people who had already sold off their priority rights (pre-1907 rights, the senior rights in the valley) and were just irrigating anyway. The District has been cracking down on that, so many of those people are now paying up and joining the water bank. Which means that, in a dry year, there is now a mechanism to cut them off.