Snowpack not promising for irrrigation project

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

This year’s snowpack, miles north of Tucumcari and resting on the mountainous slopes of New Mexico and Colorado, was hoped to be a windfall for farmers.

But with March and April winds and dry weather, that forecast has become less promising, said Roberta Ball, a hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a presentation Tuesday to the Arch Hurley Conservancy District.

A generous snowfall, like the one this year, often means a hefty runoff into the Canadian River and tributaries that add more water to Conchas Lake and eventually to the district’s canals for irrigation.

“March was so dry we reworked the equations for all parts of the state,” Ball said. There was between a 15 percent and 20 percent drop in projections for other watersheds.

In addition, the level of the lake at Conchas is down, said Arch Hurley manager Franklin McCasland.

The district released 7.5 inches last year, and, the water was in the canals from April through November.

So far, this year it has allocated one inch. The district cannot release any water until it has orders from members totaling 40 acre feet, McCasland said.

And if enough snowpack runoff does come through to Conchas, the district could release more.

At this time, the district does not the required orders. There is still frost on the ground, and the fields need to warm up for adequate growing conditions. As the ground warms up, orders are expected to increase, McCasland said.

But it’s also expected to be hotter and dryer than it was last year, limiting the water supply, Ball said.

Frustrated by the lack of prospects for water — when wheat is commanding top dollar — several farmers at the meeting suggested that the board stop micro-managing farmer’s plans.

“The board is controlling what the farmers do,” said Donald Carter, comparing the situation to someone who pays for gas, but then cannot get the gas from the pump.

The district has to consider all of its members and not just a few who are requesting that water be released at a certain time, said Arch Hurley Board chairman Larry Perkins.

In other matters before the board:
l Finding a suitable way to measure the flow of water through sprinklers was discussed.
l Dewatering and dredging and cleaning of the stilling basin at Conchas Dam is being planned at a cost of $250,000 by the Corps of Engineers, said Gary Cordova, who heads up the Conchas project. The last cleanup was in 1974.