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Southern New Mexico farmers struggle with drought

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Apr 12 2013 09:15:32 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 18 2014 11:47:29 AM CDT
HATCH, N.M. -

Farmers in southern New Mexico are worried after irrigation officials declared this the worst water year ever.

Some farmers think the high demand for groundwater could eventually dry up the aquifer.

With small water allotments from the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, farmers will have to depend on groundwater.

Near Hatch, groundwater reserves are not very deep so the water is full of salt.

"We've got too much salt. It's killing us. It affects our yields. It affects the nutrients and the plants can't produce what they should," said Jimmy Lytle, whose family owns Solar Farms in Hatch.

Lytle said pumping groundwater is not cheap.

He said powering one well on a small farm cost him $12,000 in one year. If he has to replace a well, he said that can cost him up to $60,000.

Lytle said those costs are racking up and it could end up costing consumers.

He said last year his chile crops were down by 30 percent. This year he expects the same or worse.

"Everyone's cutting down on crops because we just don't have the water," he told ABC-7.

This week EBID officials said farmers should expect less than 4 acre-inches of water for the year.

Lytle said that allotment would barely cover just one round of irrigation.

"The whole valley's worried because if these wells go dry, we're dead. It's headed that way right now, the way the water table is dropping. No water coming in to recharge the aquifer is going to affect us dramatically," he said.

Hatch chile lovers said losing the famous crop would be detrimental to the town. 

"That'd be bad for us. We're the chile capital. It'd be pretty bad," said one Hatch resident.

"It is scary. Not only for the chile farmers here in Hatch, but for the tourist industry in Sierra county," said a man visiting the area.

Farmers aren't giving up yet.

They're turning to drip irrigation systems that cut their water use down. Lytle said it could be a while before farmers can afford to install the system for all their crops.

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