New Mexico farmers worry as snowpack melts amid dam construction delays

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As spring finally arrives, melting snowpack in the northern mountains is bringing both hope and concern to farmers in the region. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District recently provided an update on the irrigation season, highlighting the evolving situation.

According to Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District CEO and Chief Engineer Jason Kasuga, the March forecast that was presented to their board on the 11th, was not particularly promising.

However, recent snowfall, including Monday’s snow in places like Ski Santa Fe, has helped improve the snowpack compared to earlier in the month. “We’re in the same period as last year, where we saw significant snow events from March to early April,” Casuga explained.

Despite these improvements, concerns remain about the amount of water available to farmers in the next season and the challenges of effectively conserving it. “The biggest concern is where the water melts and how to store it,” Kasuga emphasized. He highlighted the risk of rapid snowmelt overwhelming current storage systems, leading to potential water shortages as the Rio Grande continues its course.

Compounding the problem is the ongoing construction of the El Vado Dam, the primary water storage facility for the district Kasuga noted that full storage is not expected until 2030, with completion not expected until at least 2026. In the interim, the district has to rely on other nearby dams, which do not have the capacity to store as much water.

Farmers, already suffering from water shortages, expressed their concern about enduring another six years of uncertainty until the dam is fully operational. Acknowledging the challenges, Casuga said, “No matter how much water we have, the difficulty, especially in summer, is not having the capacity to store water.”

As the irrigation season progresses, water forecasts remain uncertain. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District plans to monitor conditions through April and May measurements, giving farmers a clearer picture of what lies ahead during the summer months.

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