Event focuses on Hogback irrigation system

Treasurer manager of Elephant Butte Irrigation District speaks at Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter house about his district's irrigation system

Noel Lyn Smith
From left, Gary Esslinger with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and Connie Falk and Tracy Raymond with Capacity Builders Inc. look at the Hogback Diversion on Friday in the Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter in Hogback.

HOGBACK — A handful of people today learned about ways to improve the Hogback irrigation system, which delivers San Juan River water to farms in the Tsé Daa K’aan, Shiprock and Gadii’ahi chapters.

Gary Esslinger, treasurer manager of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, spoke at the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter house about how his district's irrigation system delivers water to farms that grow crops such as pecans, lettuce, watermelons and alfalfa in southern New Mexico

There are several difference between the Hogback and Elephant Butte systems, said Esslinger, a third-generation farmer who has been been with the Elephant Butte district since 1978. Among them is that the Elephant Butte Irrigation District was under the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, while the Hogback system began as a Bureau of Indian Affairs project and then transferred to the Navajo Nation.

From left, Tracy Raymond with Capacity Builders Inc. and Gary Esslinger with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District tour the Hogback Diversion on Friday in the Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter in Hogback.

Elephant Butte uses computer software to track water usage and determine how much to bill farmers annually for what they use. Those payments can generate up to $8 million a year, Esslinger said.

Farmers also pay fees to support maintenance, including cutting and removing vegetation and spraying pesticides.

“My farmers down there are very particular. They don’t want any weeds, they don’t want any seeds. They want their canals groomed so that water can get through the most efficient way,” Esslinger said.

The Elephant Butte system consists of more than 600 miles of canals and 300 miles of drainage.

“So a lot of money and time is spent on keeping the canal system groomed,” Esslinger said.

The Hogback Canal is pictured Friday in the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter in Hogback.

He said the irrigation district applies for grants, especially those that focus on maintenance, and he encouraged those at the meeting to also seek funding. Grants the Elephant Butte district has received have been used to install new pipes and conduct annual maintenance, Esslinger said.

The presentation was sponsored by Capacity Builders Inc.’s Mother Earth Agricultural Initiative. Connie Falk, the initiative's project director, said Esslinger's presentation helped start a discussion among stakeholders about improving the Hogback irrigation system.

Tracy Raymond works with Falk at Capacity Builders. He also serves on the San Juan River Farm Board and is the farm board representative for Nenahnezad Chapter.

He said farmers use 22 percent of the Navajo Nation's irrigation canals. And, with more than 12,000 acres of farm land, there are opportunities to grow, he said.

"There is a possibility that we could feed the whole Navajo Nation from this project,"Tracy said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.