Saturday, December 10, 2022

Drought extension is leaving western US scrambling for water

ALBUQUERQUE, NM ( Associated Press) – Tumbleweed flows along the Rio Grande as the sand bars wide within its shores. Smoke from distant forest fires and dust from strong spring winds fill the valley, causing discomfort to residents.

One of the longest rivers in North America, the Rio Grande is another example of an exploited waterway in the western US.

From the Pacific Northwest to the Colorado River Basin, irrigation districts are already warning farmers they expect less this year, despite increasing demands from increasingly drier conditions. Climate experts say March marked the third straight month of below-average rainfall across the US and areas of record dryness are expanding in the West.

On Thursday, federal water managers shared their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande, a major water source for millions of people and thousands of square miles of farmland in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. They believe they can keep the river flowing, but it will depend on the weather.

Ed Kandall, a hydrologist at the US Bureau of Reclamation, said warmer temperatures would affect supplies, but there could be relief if the summer monsoon develops. “We’ll just have to see what happens,” he said.

Mark Garcia, who farms about 400 acres (160 ha) with his family in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque, ran the numbers. He has a degree in mathematics and taught calculus for several years before retiring and turning to the farm full time.

He found that his family would be compensated for not irrigating nearly half an acre this year, and releasing more water into the river to help New Mexico work off a loan that is growing as the state continues to provide water. to neighboring Texas.

“Logically, it was almost a no-brainer,” Garcia said of attending the fall event. “The risk analysis was, I had to take it, I had to do it. Although I didn’t want to do that.”

Sitting in the backhoe on one of his fields, Garcia began to get emotional. He said that he grew up watching his father cultivate the land.

“I was born in it,” he said. “The hard part for me is I feel like I don’t want the government to pay for not working for me. I have a problem with that.”

The state of New Mexico and the central Rio Grande Conservancy District are hoping that more farmers can make that tough choice—at least in the long run to help managers address pending water debt. The district oversees irrigation for more than 140 square miles (260 square kilometers) of farmland along a 175-mile (280-kilometre) section of the Rio Grande Valley north and south of Albuquerque.

It even acknowledges that the program is a temporary solution.

District water resources expert KC Ish said more than 200 irrigators have enrolled, and officials are targeting areas that are less productive or need rest.

“For us, it’s just a tool and a way the district is trying to help the state manage the state’s compact debt, but we’re certainly going to drag a third or half of the district into the program falling year after year. Don’t expect that,” Ish said. “It’s not sustainable from a price point or an agricultural point of view.”

Thursday’s virtual meeting included estimates of how much the Bureau of Reclamation will have to work with this season, based on spring runoff predictions and current reservoir levels. Officials said it’s possible that the Rio Grande, as it passes through the center of Albuquerque, could begin to dry up in late August or early September.

With some places reaching below average ice cover and reservoirs reaching critically low levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted in its most recent monthly climate report that there are growing concerns that the Western Drought will intensify.

On the Colorado River, the US Department of the Interior recently proposed holding back water in Lake Powell It was said to maintain the Glen Canyon Dam’s power-generating capacity that it was the driest in more than 1,200 years in the area.

The potential impacts on lower basin states that could reduce their water supplies – California, Nevada and Arizona – are not yet known. But Riddle talks about the wider works of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam and the need to pivot quickly to counter climate change.

In the Pacific Northwest, experts are predicting one of the driest summers on record, noting that about 71% of the region made up of Oregon, Washington and Idaho is in drought and about one-quarter is already experiencing extreme drought. Used to be.

An irrigation district that supplies more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers on the California-Oregon border announced earlier this week that they would receive a fraction of their normal water allocation this year. Due to drought. This is the third year in a row that severe drought has affected farmers, fisheries and tribes in a region that does not have enough water to meet competing demands.

Irrigation districts that supply water to farmers along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and the Pecos to the east are also promising shorter seasons.

Farmers in the San Luis Valley, just north of the New Mexico-Colorado border, turned their spigots on their side of the Rio Grande on April 1. Water managers in New Mexico immediately saw gauge drop, meaning less water would eventually make its way into central New Mexico.

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