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New water projects being put to the test

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Apr 09 2013 05:23:23 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 07:02:24 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

This past year, the El Paso County Water Improvement District started several new projects.

Those projects ranged from new water gates to concrete-lining long stretches of canal.

"Every time we concrete-line a canal, not only does it conserve water but it saves money for our district," said Jesus Reyes, the head of the Water Improvement District.

Reyes said by concrete-lining canals it avoids the necessity to mow grass near the canal, or remove trees. However, the most important benefit is the improved flow of water down the canal.

El Paso County's water flows from southern Colorado through New Mexico and into the Borderland. Wide, sandy canals allow water to "seep" into the ground. According to Reyes, a mile of cemented canal can stop more than 100 million gallons of water from escaping the canal.

"This ground nearby the canal can be quite porous and sandy," said Reyes.

For farmers like Ramon Tirres, every drop of water counts. He told ABC-7 that this is the worst drought season he's seen throughout his 38 years as a farmer.

"You have to keep cutting back, keeping cutting back, and to what point?" questioned Tirres. "Who knows?"

Tirres had to cut five workers this year. Last year he kept them on throughout the season, but the climate never improved.

This year, he will only plant 35 percent of the land he owns, but he can't sell the excess land because holding onto it allows him a higher amount of water that comes down the canal. In other words, farmers are holding onto land they can't grow crops on because they need more land to warrant the use of more water.

"I don't know how much more we can cut back," said Tirres.

That's why Tirres is excited about the new canals. They may not amount to an overnight change, but after three years of excessive drought, he knows a water rebound won't come easy.

Reyes said more plans are in the works. Earlier this month, the Texas Legislature agreed to release $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects over the next 10 years. Reyes said he will do what it takes to get more money and continue lining portions of the 350-mile canal system, which stretches from Dona Ana County to Hudspeth County.

While farmers will be excited to hear the news, Reyes said it means a lot to El Paso too.

"Keep in mind, the Rio Grande project delivers 50 percent of the water that the city of El Paso utilizes," said Reyes.

In a time of drought, every ounce, let alone gallon, of water saved is beneficial.

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