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New Mexico approved to use stored water under compact

July 18, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has received permission from neighboring states to access stored water after little rainfall, low runoff and high temperatures dried out some sections of the Rio Grande.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the state can now access up to 38,000 acre-feet of water — or more than 12 billion gallons — currently stored in El Vado Reservoir under the Rio Grande Compact agreement between New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, the Albuquerque Journal reported.


New Mexico’s Rio Grande Compact Commissioner John D’Antonio submitted the emergency request.

Rio Grande Basin Manager Page Pegram said the state has only been granted emergency use of that stored water one other time — in the 1950s.

“It’s pretty clear without this release the Rio Grande was going to dry up through Albuquerque for sure, maybe even from Bernalillo through Elephant Butte,” Pegram said. “That would have been a bad situation – for endangered species, for farmers and for all the people using the river right now for fun.”

The agreement requires New Mexico to deliver a certain amount of water to Elephant Butte Reservoir each year but all three commissioners from each state waived the requirement.

District water operations manager David Gensler said without the approval, the irrigation district’s supply for the Middle Rio Grande valley would have run out by this weekend.

“We would still have to do everything we can to get water to Elephant Butte,” Gensler said. “It’s like, we can have the water now, but it comes at a cost later. We don’t waste a drop in these times.”

Irrigation district CEO Mike Hamman said the water will be a lifesaver for farmers after irrigation deliveries were stopped earlier this summer because of low natural river flows.

“We’re in one of the highest demand periods for crops, particularly things like corn and chile,” he said. “This is one of the last blocks of water in the system. With it, we get another four or five weeks of water, maybe more with a little help from Mother Nature.”

Agencies are expected to hold back on using the stored water if the region receives significant rainfall.