Environmental Water Leasing Program




The guiding principle for the EWLP, as with the entire Conservation Program, is that sustaining healthy agriculture in the Middle Rio Grande Valley is crucial to maintaining a healthy Rio Grande ecosystem.


The purpose of the EWLP is to reduce overall water demand and increase the flexibility of the District’s water resources as we work to balance competing needs of Irrigation Delivery, New Mexico’s Rio Grande Compact deliveries, and supporting endangered species. Depending on water supplies and river conditions, the EWLP may provide water for species conservation at Strategic Habitat Outfalls at critical times of the year. 


The District’s Environmental Water Leasing Program (EWLP) was started as a pilot program in 2020 and allows applicants to temporarily lease a water right back to the District.  Water that is not applied to the farm during the lease term may either reduce the overall diversion demand from the Rio Grande or be delivered to strategic outfall locations near aquatic habitat areas when river drying is likely.  Federal funding is provided to the District to compensate farmers for lost production due to leasing their water right to the EWLP. Participation in the EWLP will NOT affect the status of Pre-1907 or District water rights.  An EWLP lease provides for water to be temporarily applied to a different beneficial use during the lease term.  Following the termination of the lease, participants may once again irrigate those lands under the normal conditions of a District Water Service Contract.


2023 EWLP Program Design FAQs


  • Is there a Full Season Lease Option Available in 2023?
    • Yes: The District is offering a Full Season Lease Option that will require applicants to fallow enrolled acreage for the duration of the 2023 irrigation season (March 4th – October 31st)
    • The District is extending the enrollment window for $350 per eligible acre enrolled in the EWLP for Full Season applications which originally expired on January 31st.  Applications received between November 14th and March 3rd of 2023 for Full Season will receive $350 per eligible acre.
    • The District will add an additional $500 lump sum bonus on top of the per acre payments to the first 100 Full Season applications that are submitted with 5 or more eligible acres.
  • Is there a Partial Season Lease Option Available?
    • Yes: The District is offering a Partial Season Lease Option that will require applicants to fallow enrolled acreage from May 1st through August 31st of 2023.
    • The District will pay $200 per eligible acre enrolled in the EWLP for Partial Season applications that are submitted between November 14th, 2022, and March 3rd, 2023.
    • Individuals participating in the Partial Season Lease will be allowed to irrigated enrolled acreage in the Spring (March 4th through April 30th 2023) and again in the Fall (September 1st through October 31st) subject to official start up and closing of the irrigation season by the MRGCD Board of Directors.
    • Individuals participating in the Partial Season Lease may use surface or groundwater to irrigate enrolled land during the dates mentioned in the above bullet.
    • IMPORTANT: Participation in the 2023 Partial Season Lease does not create a priority for irrigation water above any other irrigator who is not participating in the program.
    • The District cannot guarantee water supply in the Fall of 2023. Irrigators enrolling in the Partial Season Program do so at their own risk.
  • Can I re-enroll land from previous leasing programs?
    • Landowners wishing to re-enroll the same acreage from previous lease agreements mush show a valid Pre-1907 declaration for said acreage or re-enroll land that measures less than 10 eligible acres. Land that is irrigated with an MRGCD water right or measures more than 10 eligible acres is not eligible for year over year Full Season enrollment and must be rotated out of the program for a minimum of 2 years.
    • Landowners wishing to enroll in the program consecutively who do not have a declared Pre-1907 water right for land may enroll in the Partial Season Option year after year.
  • Do I have to show recent irrigation on my land to be eligible for enrollment?
    • Yes: The District will conduct a review of irrigation history on land that is submitted to the program using both satellite imagery and irrigation logbook records to ensure that submitted land has been irrigated at least 3 out of the last 5 years.
  • Can I enroll farmland with active farming leases?
    • Yes: However, any land enrolled in the program that is currently under lease must be enrolled by the Lessee with the consent of the Lessor (landowner).
  • What land use practices are permitted on enrolled land
    • Agricultural production may continue on enrolled land, so long as production is the result only of natural precipitation, and no irrigation water is applied from any source, including groundwater pumping during the lease term.  The District encourages irrigators to manage weeds when possible.
  • Is Water Bank land eligible for enrollment?
    • No: Land currently supplied through the District’s Water Bank is not eligible for enrollment in the Program.
  • How many acres will be allowed into the 2023 EWLP?
    • The District has set an acreage cap of 3,200 acres for the 2023 irrigation season.
  • Is there a minimum acreage size that I can enroll?
    • Yes: The minimum eligible acreage that can be enrolled is 1 acre. Applicants are allowed to enroll multiple tracts in order to reach 1 acre in total area.
  • How will the District enforce compliance with irrigators who enroll in the program?
    • Once the enrollment deadline is reached the District will compile a master list of the acres and respective owners/lessees that are signed up for the 2023 EWLP. Irrigation System Operators (ISO’s) overseeing water delivery for enrolled lands will be notified of the specific acreage that has been enrolled in their service area. If an ISO finds a field that appears to be irrigated outside the terms of the lease agreement will contact the owner and then the Conservation Program regarding the violation.  Review of the incident by the District may result in termination of the Agreement, in which case the Irrigator will be obligated to return in full to MRGCD any payment already made for the use of water while enrolled in the 2023 EWLP.
  • How will I be paid by the District once I enroll?
    • The District will pay you 60% of the total lease agreement amount following review of your application and the signing of a contract. Any field inspections will take place prior to signing a contract. You will receive 40% of the total lease agreement once the District has inspected and approved the enrolled acreage at the end of the season.  Full payment should be expected on or around November 14, 2022.

Enrollment Closed.