Environmental Water Leasing Program
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s (District) Conservation Program (Program) addresses challenges faced by the District and the people who depend on us to deliver their irrigation water. These challenges include drought and climate variability, along with increasing demands on the Rio Grande for both water and habitat conservation. The primary goal of the Conservation Program is to advance efficient water delivery and use, thus extending the dependability of water supply for sustainable agriculture. Efficient water delivery and use will increase the District’s resilience to a highly variable water supply, help to maintain compliance with Rio Grande Compact requirements, and assist management of federal resources for Endangered Species (ESA).
District water users who desire to support endangered species may choose to enroll irrigated land in the District’s Environmental Water Leasing Program (EWLP). Started as a pilot program in 2020, the EWLP allows a water user to temporarily lease a water right to support riparian and aquatic species, and the overall health of the Rio Grande. Water that is not applied to the farm 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.
The District will only accept currently irrigated and productive agricultural land for enrollment in the Program. Acreage being enrolled must have a history of being irrigated at least 3 out of the last 5 years. Any land enrolled in the program that is currently under lease must be enrolled by the Lessee with the consent of the Lessor (landowner). 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. Land currently supplied through the District’s Water Bank is not eligible for enrollment in the Program. The guiding principle for the EWLP, as with the entire 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.