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Periodic Valley rains a relief for farmers

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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 5:08 am

SAN BENITO — Recent rains have helped farmers like Dale Murden forgo agricultural water to irrigate crops, giving some Rio Grande Valley irrigation districts more time before they run dry.

Rio Hondo and other cities can postpone using “push water” to bring potable water to residents, officials said.

Periodic rains have quenched the region since April and have helped grow 200 acres of cotton at Rio Farms in Monte Alto, said Murden, the company’s chief executive officer.

“I’ve skipped one irrigation and might skip the next one,” he said, adding the rain has also helped leach the soil of toxic salts, making the soil healthier.

Rains continue to buy time at the San Benito irrigation district six weeks after officials projected it would run out of agricultural water, General Manager Sonia Lambert said.

“It’s great,” Lambert said. “Every rain extends the water supply for a few more weeks.”

The district had projected it would run dry in late May before April brought the region’s first rainfall since early January.

“It’s helped,” Lambert said. “However, it’s almost inevitable that at some point we’ll run out of water.”

The Donna irrigation district ran dry in April.

Since late April, 6.33 inches of rain have fallen in the Harlingen area, National Weather Service meteorologist Alfredo Vega said.

Rio Grande Watermaster’s office gave the irrigation district 3,900 acre-feet of water in May and 10,000 acre-feet in June, Lambert said. An acre-foot, or 325,851 gallons, is the amount used to cover one acre with a one-foot-deep irrigation.

The irrigation district supplies water to the cities of San Benito and Rio Hondo and the East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp.

These inflows have allowed Rio Hondo to postpone using “push water,” Mayor Gustavo Olivares said.

“It’s helped a little, at least temporarily,” Olivares said. The city bought 820 acre-feet of push water at a cost of $30 an acre-foot from the Brownsville irrigation district in May.

Push water would generate a steady flow through a 28-mile system of canals and resacas that run from the Rio Grande to the Rio Hondo water plant, Lambert said.

Rain plus the “modest” Mexican water releases raised water levels at Falcon reservoir from 20 percent of capacity in June to 23 percent in July, Sally Spener, spokeswoman with the International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso, said.

“I know there’s a slight improvement,” Spener said.

A 1944 treaty requires Mexico to give the United States 1.75 million acre-feet of water within five-year cycles unless the country faces extraordinary drought or accidents to its hydraulic system, which would make it difficult to deliver the required volumes, Spener said.

Mexico, in its third year of a cycle that began in October 2010, owed the United States 468,236 acre-feet as of Friday, she said.

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