Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.


Famers in the Rio Grande Valley learned Friday that irrigation water used to water their crops will be shut off early for the second year in a row. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board said the shutoff is necessary because of long-term drought and a large water debt to southern New Mexico and Texas. Water is scheduled for shut off one month early on Oct. 1.

Planning ahead, not just for the next generation, but for seven generations ahead — a 500-year plan, is second nature to Santiago Maestas, President of the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias (SVRAA). Climate change, drought, New Mexico’s commercial and sprawled community developments are throwing a monkey wrench into this ancestral plan. Maestas gave The Paper. an update on where the irrigation stands in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

“New Mexico needs to take a page from its ancestors. Water is life. The generations to come need to have this resource available to them. With climate change, I think the whole world’s coming to that conclusion. It’s a matter of survival now, Mother Nature has had enough,” Maestas told us.

Maestas says there are enough inflows to the middle valley to keep the Albuquerque section of the Rio Grande continuous and it is not expected to dry out in the foreseeable future. The Bosque is expected to remain open for low‐impact recreational use, however current fire restrictions remain in place.

Summer monsoons had allowed the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) to pause releases of the last storage water available from the San Juan‐Chama Project allocation (SJC Project). On August 4th, MRGCD began augmenting the base flows again in the Rio Grande with releases of the SJC Project water.

Isleta and San Acacia have been bypassing excess inflows that MRGCD did not have the capacity to divert into its facilities. San Acacia and Isleta diversion dam bypasses have been reduced and will be set to bypass the only federal leased SJC water by early next week. If the Isleta or San Acacia reaches experience unique river channel drying, the silvery minnow rescue operations will resume.

At some point in August, MRGCD expects to be completely out of its 2021 SJC Project water supply and will move toward prior and paramount (P&P senior water rights) only operations for the six middle Rio Grande Pueblos.

Maestas said SVRAA delayed irrigation season by a month to let water flow south to Elephant Butte to help mitigate the 100,000 acre-foot water debt New Mexico owes Texas under the Rio Grande Compact, and plan on closing irrigation season early on September 30. They have reduced irrigation from every two weeks to a 21-day rotation “We need at least three more irrigations within the current 21-day rotation for our winter wheat and cover crops,” Maestas explained.

The MRGCD has submitted a $30 million ask to New Mexico’s congressional delegation for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to improve the river channel below San Acacia.