Irrigation water runs out for local farmers

Posted at: 07/01/2013 5:51 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Monday was the day thousands of New Mexico farmers dreaded and prayed would never come, but it did. Irrigation water has run out, with the long hot summer stretching out ahead. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has gone dry. After three years of extreme drought, that’s all she wrote.

“Our supplemental water supply is now gone,” said hydrologist David Gensler, water system manager for the Conservancy District. “It means even less certainty than what we’ve had this year, in what’s already been a very uncertain year. We simply have no backup supplies any more. We get what the river gives us, and that’s it.”

That’s likely to be little or nothing, but some farmers are ready for it. Shauna Pearson is a manager at Skarsgard Farms, organic produce growers in Bernalillo County’s South Valley. They’ve got wells to fall back on.

“It forced us to think ahead and put the investment into putting a well onto our other property,” Pearson said while examining the first-blush Early Girl tomatoes at Skarsgard’s 18 acre farm just off Isleta Boulevard. “We already have a well here and we’re lucky enough to be able to do that over there at the other property, because sometimes it’s very expensive.”

The message? If you don’t have a well, you’re out of business. Farmers hear that loud and clear, and if you listen hard you just might hear something else: prayers for rain.

There are about 11,000 farmers in the middle Rio Grande Valley, with crop values usually at about $100 million in an average year.  Farmers in the lower valley, below Elephant Butte Dam, are in even worse shape.