NM irrigation season officially over

POSTED: 07:42 PM MDT Jul 17, 2013 

Enjoy the Rio Grande while you can.

In the next few days, it will be empty again.

Wednesday marked the end of the irrigation season -- the state's shortest in history. 

Farmers throughout the borderland will have to rely on groundwater to irrigate their crops.

"It's a record-breaker. We've never had to deal with that before. Obviously we couldn't give enough water to grow their crops for the season but we were able to at least give them enough to curtail their pumping," said Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager.

This year, farmers got just a fraction of the irrigation water they're used to: three acre-inches instead of three acre-feet.

"Most farmers are very productive and accustomed to changing with the times. Many farmers in both valleys put in wells. That is their supplemental supply," Esslinger said.

Groundwater is a supply that becomes unreliable as it gets depleted.

The more groundwater that gets used, the more salt there is.

High salt levels in the water lead to lower crop yields.

Irrigation officials fear this is only the beginning.

"There's been worse. I'm not so sure that this one won't get worse. I'm sorry to say that but I believe we're fixing to set into this for a long time," Esslinger told ABC-7.

Farmers and irrigation officials are hoping for a wet monsoon to fill the lake and replenish the aquifer.

Until that happens, officials said they can't even start planning for next year.

"There's no water in the lake. What's there is compact water from New Mexico. There's about maybe 5,000 acre-feet of water for both El Paso and New Mexico farmers. That could evaporate before November," Esslinger said.

Esslinger predicts the river water will be gone in three or four days.