Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):
The Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande [April 15, 2021] showing below average runoff for the second year in a row.
The amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent) measured in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado feeding the river basin is below average and a below average spring runoff is expected for the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Most reservoirs on the Rio Chama, Rio Grande, and Pecos River are holding between 10% and 50% of their capacity heading into the irrigation season. In addition, the amount of moisture in the soil right now is extremely low, compounded by high temperatures, so much of the melting snow may be absorbed or evaporate before it reaches rivers.
“We continue to learn more about the Rio Grande and Pecos and the species that rely on them as we manage through extended drought in the region,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are in close coordination with water and species management partners to ensure we make the best decisions for all water users and for the health of the rivers in a tough year like this.”
At the end of March, snow water equivalent was 88% of average for the Rio Chama Basin, 111% of average for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 72% for the Sangre de Cristos, and 65% for the Jemez. Based on these values, the Natural Resources Conservation Service streamflow forecast issued for the month of April predicts that the Rio Chama flow into the El Vado Reservoir will be at 52% of its average, with an inflow of about 116,000 acre-feet of water.
Information from Annual Operating Plan:
- Under current Rio Grande Compact storage restrictions triggered by low storage at downstream reservoirs, water can only be stored in El Vado for the Prior and Paramount lands of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began irrigation on April 1, a month later than usual, with the natural flow of the Rio Grande.
- Due to the expected low runoff, lack of water in storage, as well as a minimal supply of water for Reclamation to lease to supplement river flows, there—s a possibility that the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande could experience some drying this summer along with sections of the river in the Isleta and San Acacia reaches.
- Reclamation is coordinating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue fish from drying portions of the river and coordinating with partners to use the limited supply of water most effectively.
- Rio Grande Project usable storage is currently about 245,000 acre-feet and is expected to peak at about 350,000 acre-feet before declining as irrigation releases start.
- The irrigation season is scheduled to begin with releases from Elephant Butte Reservoir in early May and Caballo Reservoir in late May.
- The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and dangerous and the public is asked to exercise caution around the river channel. Water levels will fluctuate through the rest of the short irrigation season.
- On the Pecos River, basin-wide snow water equivalent was 57% of average on March 31, and the NRCS predicted 16,200 acre-feet of inflow to Santa Rosa Reservoir from March to July.
- Reclamation is using a more conservative estimate for inflow, and the Carlsbad Irrigation District has only allocated 0.38 feet per acre, one of its lowest allocations ever.
The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held virtually this year in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Those who were not able to attend the meetings can still view the presentation on Reclamation—s website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/DocLibrary/Plans/MiddleRioGrande/20210415-MiddleRioGrandeAnnualOperatingPlan_508.pdf or contact Mary Carlson at email@example.com.