The growing drought is causing the western United States to look for water

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Tumbleweeds drift along the Rio Grande as sandbanks within its shores grow wider. Smoke from distant forest fires and dust kicked up by intense spring winds fill the valley, exacerbating the sense of need that is beginning to weigh on residents.

One of North America’s longest rivers, the Rio Grande, is another example of a waterway in the western United States that has been drained.

From the Pacific Northwest to the Colorado River Basin, irrigation districts are already warning farmers to expect less this year despite growing demand driven by ever-drying conditions. Climate experts say March marked the third consecutive month of below-average precipitation in the United States and areas with record droughts are expanding in the west.

On Thursday, federal water chiefs are scheduled to share their annual business 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. Its outlook is expected to be just as bleak.

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

He found that his family would be compensated for not irrigating about half of its land this year, and more water would be left in the river to help New Mexico settle a debt that has increased because the state does not meet its water supply obligations. to neighboring Texas.

“Logically, it was almost like a no-brainer,” Garcia said of choosing to retire. “The risk analysis was that I had to take it, I had to do it. However, I did not want to.”

As he sat in his backhoe loader in one of his fields, Garcia began to get emotional. He said he grew up when he saw his father cultivate the land.

“I was born into this,” he said. “The difficult thing for me is that I feel that I do not want the government to pay for me not to work. I have a problem with that.”

The state of New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District hope more farmers can make the difficult choice – at least long enough to help executives deal with the pending water debt.

The conservation district, which monitors irrigation from Cochiti Dam south to the Elephant Butte Reservoir, also acknowledges that it is a temporary solution.

Casey Ish, a district water resources specialist, said more than 200 irrigation machines have signed up and officials are targeting fields that are less productive or need rest.

“For us, this is just a tool and a way that the district is trying to help the state deal with the state’s compact debt, but we really do not expect to drag a third or half of the district into a program to fall behind year after year,” Ish said. “It’s not sustainable from a price point or an ag point.”

Thursday’s virtual meeting will include estimates of how much the Bureau of Reclamation will need to work on this season based on the spring runoff forecast and current reservoir levels.

With below-average snow cover and reservoirs in some places reaching critically low levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted in its latest monthly climate report that concerns are mounting that the drought in the west will intensify.

On the Colorado River, the US Department of the Interior recently proposed holding back the water at Lake Powell to maintain Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity in the midst of what it said were the driest conditions in the region in more than 1,200 years.

The potential effects on states in lower basins that could see their water supply decline – California, Nevada and Arizona – are not yet known. But the mystery is about the extensive features of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, and the need to turn quickly to meet climate change.

In the northwest Pacific, experts predict one of the driest summers ever, noting that nearly 71% of the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho regions are in drought and nearly a quarter are already experiencing extreme drought.

An irrigation district supplying 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, fish and tribes in a region where there is not enough water to satisfy competing demands.

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

Just north of the border between New Mexico and Colorado, farmers in the San Luis Valley turned their taps on April 1 and exploited their portion of the Rio Grande. Water managers in New Mexico immediately saw the meters drop, which means that less water will eventually reach central New Mexico.

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