Elephant Butte Lake water level "terribly" low

Officials hoping late winter storms will help

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) officials said the water level at the lake is terribly low and doesn't look like it will get better.

Official numbers show the lake is currently at 174,237 acre-feet. Acre-feet is the amount of water it takes to fill one acre of the lake with a foot of water. At this time last year, the lake was at 319,690 acre-feet.

Despite the low level, people are still going out to the lake to take out their boats and fish.

Neal Brown, the owner of Marina Del Sur, admitted the water level is low, but he told ABC-7 it's not bad.

"It's the largest body of water in the state so there's still an awful lot of water. Because it's not what it was 20 years ago doesn't make it any less. It's just different," Brown said.

Park officials are anxiously awaiting projected water levels for this year. That report will decide how much irrigation water farmers in the borderland will get.

"It's not going to get better. It's going to get worse before it gets better," said Gary Esslinger, EBID treasurer-manager. "Right now, it's 38 percent of normal and that's terrible."

Esslinger told ABC-7 predicting what the water level will be is difficult; much of it depends on runoff from melting snow in the north.

"Another year of drought is not good for anybody, whether you live in a city or whether you live on a farm, because we can't get rainwater or snow runoff," he said.

Farmers in southern New Mexico, El Paso and Juarez depend on the lake for irrigation water.

El Paso water customers also rely on the Rio Grande for drinking water.

They may not get much help this year.

"Last year we had a four-inch allotment. This year we could have no allotment," Esslinger said.

No water from the lake means farmers would have to depend on groundwater, a resource that's already strained.

Park officials and workers at Marina Del Sur are looking for the silver lining.

"It's been lower than it is now. It'll probably get there again, but I think it will be different. I wouldn't say it would be bad," Brown said.

"The lake had 57,000 acre-feet in it in October of 1957. In April of 1958, it had 850,000 acre-feet, so in one winter storm or wet winter, we gained over 700,000 acre-feet," Esslinger told ABC-7. "It is possible that you could get some heavy-duty storms come through January, February, March and April and bring up our snowpack runoff average."

Park officials expect the report to be released in mid-February. Then they will have a better idea of what farmers can expect.

They're optimistic the water level will rise. 

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