With reservoir levels dropping, South Texas growers should be especially aware of their irrigation practices, according to Dr. Juan Enciso, an irrigation engineer at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center at Weslaco.
"By nature, growers are outstanding stewards of our natural resources, but with water levels as low as they are more than ever growers should be reminded to be very cautious about how and when they irrigate," Enciso says.
The lakes at Amistad and Falcon Dams, which provide water to farmers and municipalities downriver, are relatively low, says Erasmo Yarrito Jr., Rio Grande watermaster with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Harlingen.
"We're at a combined 44 percent of capacity, which is down considerably from 73 percent we were at last year at this time," he says. "It's nothing to panic over because we're setting on about a year's worth of water needs, but we could use some inflows from rain into the watershed, which have been slow in coming this year. And we need to curtail water use."
With Falcon Lake at about 19% of capacity, Yarrito has been moving water from Amistad to Falcon to prepare for water demands from growers who will be planting this fall and again next spring. Amistad is currently at about 54% of capacity.
"So far, Falcon is up by over a foot after about six weeks of moving water from Amistad," he says. "What we keep in Amistad will be for any emergencies we might have, but conservation by both municipalities and growers goes a long way to helping the situation."
It's important that fields not be left unattended when irrigating crops, Enciso says.
"All irrigation should be supervised because it's so important to avoid any spills," he says.
Growers should try to avoid runoff, block lower ends of fields, and delay irrigation when possible.
Studies also show growers can save 30% of normal water usage by irrigating alternate rows.