The Middle Rio Grande Farm and River Resilience Program
Adrian Oglesby1*, Paul Tashjian2*
1UNM Utton Transboundary Resources Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico,
2Audubon New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico,
Audubon New Mexico and the Utton Transboundary Resources Center at the University of New Mexico are helping the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District develop an innovative new farm and river conservation program.   This comprehensive effort aims to increase the resilience of both the Middle Rio Grande ecosystem and the 65,000 acres of farmland it supports in the face of increasingly variable water supplies.  This effort aims to benefit farmers by advancing efficient water delivery and use, thus increasing the dependability of water supply for sustainable agriculture, endangered species compliance, and our rare Bosque and riverine habitat.  A guiding principle for this effort is that sustaining healthy agriculture in the Middle Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico is crucial to maintaining a healthy river ecosystem.
This presentation will highlight the tools and activities that are being used or are under consideration for implementation, which include:
  • Water delivery system efficiency improvements;
  • On-farm irrigation efficiency improvements;
  • Improvement to irrigation scheduling and water delivery practices;
  • Technical and financial resources to support productive agriculture and efficient water use;
  • Voluntary water leasing within the Middle Rio Grande to promote innovative and successful farming, ecosystem health and species conservation; and,
  • Habitat restoration and development to improve effectiveness of species conservation at locations associated with leased water returns to the river; and,
  • Design and installation of irrigation infrastructure to allow for i additional connections back to the river.
In its first year of pilot implementation this program has resulted in the development of split season leasing protocols, late season leases of 260 acres, delivery of leased water through the irrigation system to key habitat sites along and in the river, and restoration designs for these locations to ensure optimal habitat during drought conditions. The restoration of these key delivery points from the irrigation system back to the river will ensure that minimal water delivery to the river during severe drought will have maximum conservation benefit. 
The Program is planning the expansion of water leasing options for 2021, which may include a full season option or multi-year options.  All this is being conducted under the specter of record drought conditions and increased annual drying in the watershed due to climate change, making this work both timely and essential.