ELEPHANT BUTTE, New Mexico - Elephant Butte Lake is gearing up for a busy Memorial Day weekend. Officials say the saw 80,000 people last Memorial Day weekend and tell ABC-7 with water levels rising, they're gearing up to see 100,000 people this weekend alone.
Officials say the dam was opened up in March and they're seeing a rise between 2-2 1/2 feet of water per week. As of Thursday, they're 17 feet higher than last year. It's the highest they've seen in eight years, a good indication that mountain snow up North is running off and draining into the river then funneling into the lake. Officials say they're expecting an additional five feet, depending on how much runoff and snow melt they get.
The National Weather Service in El Paso reported that Elephant Butte Lake is currently at its highest level and water levels continue to rise. As of May 25, The Water Data for Texas reports the lake is 24.4% full, compared to a 7.8% capacity only three months ago.
The rise is expected to continue until mid-June. Lake officials expect more than a 90,000 foot rise over Memorial Day weekend.
Officials say the water levels were actually sinking at this same time last year. They're asking visitors to be extra cautious this year about safety and lake rules.
"We have campers that come out here and they set their campers days, maybe weeks before the holiday and of course that's a park violation and once we make contact, we'll issue citations and the other thing is this individuals that left their trailer out there, some of them might be in the water when they come out here. And it's going to cause an issue for them to pull their trailers out of the area, that they're in," Sal Gonzalez, boating officer at Elephant Butte Lake State Park said.
Gonzalez says Memorial day weekend kicks of the lake's summer season, bringing in visitors from all over like Andy Halsey. Halsey tells Abc-7 he's been coming to the lake since he was seven.
"I'd visit my grandparents in T or C and back then the lake was just spilling over the dam and now it's the lowest I've ever seen it," Halsey said.
Visitors like Jonathan Ortega made the trip down with his family from Albuquerque.
"Just to get some sunshine and get out of the town from everyday work life," Ortega said.
Ortega says he's definitely noticed a difference in the amount of water in the lake.
"You can tell because rattlesnake island is, it's an island, it's never like that every year that we come," Ortega said.
Officials say they anticipate more people out in the water, tubing, jet skiing or swimming. In preparation for the influx of visitors, lake officials say nearby agencies like state police, border patrol and the sheriff's office will be patrolling the lake, keeping an eye out.
No drinking while driving or operating a water vessel is allowed. Officials say children under 12 should wear a life jacket at all times.