From the El Paso Times: Reservoir drying up: El Paso shifts from Rio Grande to well water

Reservoir drying up: El Paso shifts from Rio Grande to well water

Posted:   02/05/2013 11:19:43 PM MST

Elephant Butte water levels

Elephant Butte Lake remains less than four percent full of water available to downstream users, including El Paso Water Utilities and its customers. While the number is telling, recent photos of the lake are even more striking. During the week of February 4-8, 2013, EPWU will dedicate its social media platforms to sharing photos and videos which demonstrate the drought’s impact on Elephant Butte Lake. (Special to the Times)

The water level at Elephant Butte Lake is down significantly compared with previous irrigation seasons because of the region’s prolonged, severe drought.

Water at the lake — so popular for boating, fishing and swimming — sits at less than 4 percent of water available to downstream users, including El Paso water customers and farmers, according to El Paso Water Utilities.

Martin Bartlett, spokesman for the utility, said recent photographs taken by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show dramatic effects of drought on the lake. As a result, the water utility plans to shift away from relying heavily on the Rio Grande for the city’s drinking water.

“El Paso Water Utilities plans to make up the difference by relying more heavily

Reporter: Diana
Washington Valdez

on well water,” President and CEO John E. Balliew said. “We’re preparing by drilling new wells and building new pipelines to more efficiently move that water around the city.


“The bottom line is that we expect less river water again this year. For now, it’s just too early to know how much less,” Balliew said.

Water officials said that El Paso Water Utilities generally pumps half of its water supply from wells in the city. The other half comes from water released from Elephant Butte Lake into the Rio Grande.

The persistent drought in New Mexico and Colorado also means less river water than usual will be available to El Paso.

Most of the water stored at Elephant Butte begins as rain and snow falling in northern New


Mexico and Colorado.


Balliew said the ongoing drought, temperatures, wind speeds and humidity in those regions dictate how much of that water eventually reaches El Paso.

Jesus “Chuy” Reyes, general manager of El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, said the district’s customers, who include farmers, are being affected.

“I recently came back from southern Colorado, the Alamosa-Wolf Creek area, where the snowpack we depend on comes from, and things did not look good,” Reyes said.

“The farmers up there and other locals said they are concerned. We can still get some good snowfall up there between now and April, but we don’t really know that that will happen. We are at the mercy of the weather.”

Reyes said the irrigation season usually begins with water releases from Elephant Butte in March, but because of the drought, releases will be delayed until June.

“The water allocations may be also smaller this year,” Reyes said. “We have 58 wells in the district, but they don’t provide the same amount of water that we get from pumping the Rio Grande.”

Mexico, which by treaty is entitled to some of the Rio Grande water for Juárez area farmers, agreed to wait until June to receive its share of irrigation water.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines drought as a period of persistent dry weather that endures long enough to cause serious problems, such as crop damage, water supply shortages or both.

According to NOAA’s website, these were the biggest droughts on record in the U.S. in modern history:

  • 1933-38: The “Dust Bowl” period that covered 80 percent of the country with moderate to more severe degrees of drought, and at least 60 percent with extreme drought.
  • 1953-57: Severe drought gripped half the country.
  • 1988: Considered the costliest drought year ever, which caused crop losses of $15 billion and other losses to the economy.

Bartlett said the utility plans to raise public awareness of the water situation at Elephant Butte, and encourage residents to keep practicing water conservation.

Last year in May, El Paso Water Utilities asked El Pasoans to voluntarily conserve water for two weeks to prevent having to institute mandatory watering restrictions. The voluntary run was successful, and residents later were able to water their lawns twice a week instead of only once a week.

For now, the regular lawn watering schedules remain in effect in El Paso: Watering for homes with even-numbered addresses is permitted on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and for homes with odd-numbered addresses on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Residential watering is not allowed on Mondays.

El Paso Water Utilities has posted some conservation tips at

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at; 546-6140.


Ways you can conserve water
Find these and more water-conservation tips at and

  • Turn off the faucet while washing your hair, lathering your hands, shaving or brushing your teeth.
  • Fix leaky faucets, toilets and valves. Don’t forget to check outside faucets, too.
  • Install a water-efficient showerhead and toilet.
  • Shorten your shower by one to two minutes.
  • Run the clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water. Collect the rinse water and use it to water houseplants.
  • Designate one glass for your drinking water each day or refill a water bottle.
  • Adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered, not the sidewalk.
  • Spread a layer of organic mulch around plants to retain moisture.
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalk
  • Don’t water your lawn on windy days.
  • Use a commercial carwash that recycles water.

Source:”El Paso”Water Utilities,

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