Corrales farming brothers frustrated with limited water supply

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CORRALES, N.M. – Brothers Jimmy and Anthony Wagner said they requested emergency water from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District last week, to protect their apple orchard from a freeze, but the delivery never arrived.

“See right there, see how it just falls apart cause of the frost,” Jimmy told KOB 4 as he pulled a dry apple blossom from a tree and crushed it between his fingers. “They’re all going to fall off because they’re all dead.”

Photos of the orchard from April 10 show rows of trees filled with large white blossoms and water pooling in nearby ditches, a stark difference from the dry and patchy conditions Monday afternoon.

The two farmers said apples are not their only concern.

“We have corn and chile planted, and the chile won’t even germinate getting water every three weeks,” Anthony said. “We got a lot of water in the river, and we can’t get water.”

“It’s very challenging for farmers to see that there’s a lot of water in the river and be told that they have to wait for the irrigation deliveries,” MRGCD Water Operations Manager Anne Marken said.

Marken added that New Mexico still owes 93,000-acre feet of water to Texas, putting restrictions on the MRGCD’s operations. To keep the debt from growing, the district plans to take as little water out of the abundant river as possible.

“If we’re not able to work towards reducing our debt now, in the future, when El Vado dam upstream is available for the district to store, we will still be constrained by the compact and storing up there and we’ll find ourselves in a similar situation,” Marken explained.

She also said future emergency operations would be much more flexible with the debt paid off,  which would benefit farmers. But even with the full river New Mexico has now, it will likely take several years to get to that point.

The Wagners said they understand there is a debt, but they are also under pressure from the State’s new request that local farmers provide fresh produce for lunches at New Mexico schools.

“If you don’t have the water to grow it, then you’re not going to be able to grow more food,” Anthony said. “It’s a big initiative this year.”