Irrigation ditches filled for upcoming season

Posted at: 03/01/2013 6:19 PM
Updated at: 03/01/2013 8:01 PM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4


Water started flowing in irrigation ditches and canals Friday, but farmers are being told not to start irrigating just yet.  It will take at least another four weeks to do some spring cleanup and check the water flows, all in preparation for the extremely harsh season ahead.

Canals that were bone dry underwent the transformation Thursday night. Friday they were filled up with fresh water for the upcoming irrigation season.  But the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is warning farmers to think twice about every drop of water that is used this year.

"The last time I think we've seen a year this bad was probably 1977," David Gensler said. 

And before that, there has not been this great of a water shortage since the 1950's.

"None of us have had any recent experience getting through these kinds of low-water conditions, so I think it's going to be a very challenging situation," Gensler said.

Farmer Michael Lundmark is already seeing the effects.  Lundmark showed KOB Eyewitness News 4 his winter wheat and explained, it should be five times the size, but with such little water it just cannot grow.

"Never in my life have I seen this condition," Lundmark said.

Worst case scenario this summer, the bread and butter of New Mexico agriculture, red and green chile, could suffer most.  Not even the crop's own state law could help save it if the supply runs dry.

"We're going to continue to be able to deliver water throughout the summer but once we run out of our stored reservoir supplies the interval between irrigations will become longer," Gensler said.

How much rain falls in the early part of the summer will determine how quickly there could be noticeable problems.

Officials are also warning people, the water in the ditch banks and canals is not safe to swim or play in.  Every year there are several emergency rescues.