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Texas Farmers to get 50% more water
Drought still makes for cautious season

David Crowder
El Paso Times

The El Paso and Elephant Butte irrigation district boards will raise their water allotments for area farmers by about 50 percent today, but it'll still be another tough season as the river drought persists.

In a normal, non-drought year, the El Paso district delivers four acre-feet of water to farmers and small-tract owners along the Rio Grande. An acre-foot equals 325,829 gallons, or about enough water to supply the needs of two households for a year.

"Our first allocation was 12 inches an acre, and we'll probably go to 18 inches at this meeting, and I feel confident we will wind up with 24 this summer," said Jesus "Chuy" Reyes, interim general manager of the El Paso County Water Improvement District No.1.

That's better, but it's still not good, said Jimmy Britton, a retired Clint-area farmer who now rents his remaining 75 acres to a neighboring farmer, John Witte.

"We're all laying out some of our land and not farming it, saving the water to use on the land we are farming," Britton said. "Everyone's having to cut back and supplementing their irrigation with wells."

Asked what the year looks like now, he said, "It's still a little early to tell, but it's been such a cool spring, the cotton's not growing and the winds have dried it out. Right now, it doesn't look good."

The boards that oversee the two irrigation districts served by Elephant Butte and Caballo Lake reservoirs will be adjusting their allotments to farmers and the city of El Paso based on the Bureau of Reclamation's May monthly estimate of the Rio Grande water that will reach Elephant Butte this season.

A full allotment in Doņa Ana County's Elephant Butte Irrigation District is three acre-feet, but the district's general manager, Gary Esslinger, said he expects the board will raise the water allocation to 13 to 15 inches an acre today.

El Paso's Water Utilities usually gets about half of the city's water from the Rio Grande, but that has also been sharply reduced by the snow drought in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The city has drilled 12 new wells and has gone back to 11 and is heavy on new groundwater and conservation to make it until June, said the utility's spokeswoman, Karol Parker.

"Our plan is to use well water until they start releasing the water we have coming later this month," Parker said.