ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Federal authorities are telling Rio Grande water users that their allotment of water from the San Juan-Chama project may be curtailed significantly in 2013 because two years of drought have depleted reserves.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/UnC3OK) that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been informing water agencies that they could see a 20 percent curtailment in water deliveries next year.
The San Juan-Chama project brings water from the Colorado River into the Rio Grande Basin and has been a lifeline for Rio Grande water users in recent drought years, especially Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District farmers and the Albuquerque metro area's government water utility. This is the first time since the San Juan-Chama project was completed in the 1970s that it faces the possibility of shortages.
The bureau made the decision to begin notifying water users this week after looking at how much water is left in storage from previous years, along with forecasts that show little prospect for significant drought relief this winter. Snowpack in the Rio Grande headwaters that feed the San Juan-Chama project is currently just 35 percent of average for this time of year, with almost no snow in the past month, according to the federal government's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
John Stomp, chief operating officer of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, said the utility has enough of its own water stockpiled to make it through 2013 with minimal effect. But irrigators in the Rio Grande Valley between Cochiti and Elephant Butte Reservoir could see a shorter 2013 irrigation season if a good snowpack does not bail out water users.
For now, the water agencies and irrigation districts that use San Juan-Chama water will be told they can only count on 80 percent of their normal annual distribution, said Mike Hamman, head of the Bureau of Reclamation's Albuquerque office.
If there is sufficient snow this winter, the allocations may rise come spring, Hamman said. "It's not necessarily panic time for shortages to the project yet," Hamman said.
In all, 13 municipal water agencies and irrigation districts have contracts with the federal government for San Juan-Chama water. Albuquerque and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are by far the largest.
For the Conservancy District, a 20 percent shortfall in San Juan-Chama water could mean reducing farmers' irrigation season by as much as a week, said David Gensler, the district's water manager. Gensler said the bureau's decision to begin preparing for possible shortfalls in 2013 was "not unreasonable," given the impacts of back-to-back drought years.