Friday, October 16, 2009

River Off

Here's the view from my orchard, looking across the river to North Hill.

They turned the river off yesterday, marking the end of another irrigation season.  The sandbars are exposed for another winter.  The river level will continue to drop gradually for another few weeks.  Then it will stabilize to its winter level.  The river runs year-round here.

This was an unusual irrigation season.  The Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID, as everybody calls it) used up the last of its allotment in early September, but the El Paso Irrigation District farther downstream kept on irrigating until yesterday.  This meant that we had water in the river until yesterday, which is a typical time to end the irrigation season.

Everybody is hoping for a decent snowpack this winter.  Most of the water in the Rio Grande originally falls as snow in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.  It's an elegant system -- the snow accumulates all winter long.  Then it rapidly melts in late spring, and the water that flows down the Rio Grande is stored in a series of lakes.  This will all come to an end as global heating continues.  Much of the winter precipitation will then fall as rain, much of which will soak into the ground.  Much of the diminished runoff will also soak into the ground.  Much less water will make it to the lakes, and more of the stored water will evaporate because of the hotter climate.  Talk about a relentless cascade of negative feedback loops.  But until then, it's business as usual. 

We're living year-to-year now; even huge snowpacks only provide water for two years.  It's been a long time since we've had a series of heavy snowpacks capable of filling the lakes to the brim.  Since the mid-90s, as I recall.  They say our perpetual drought is permanent, and will get worse.  Except for occasional monsoon flooding, of course.

In late October I'll be celebrating my 36th anniversary living here next to the river.  In 1973, my head full of glorious incandescent dreams, I drove a U-Haul truck from our first homestead in Missouri, the truck full of our belongings as well as 5 goats, 12 chickens, and a couple of rabbits.  What a menagerie we were.  Except for occasional flooding and annual outbreaks of mosquitoes, it's been a wonderful place to live.  I've gotten rather attached to it over the years.