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End of watering season near Las Cruces approaches

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The Rio Grande will soon dry up near Las Cruces with the approaching end of watering season, whose releases some farmers called inadequate.

Three irrigation districts that rely on the river have shut off water for the year, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1oBqIrg ). In less than two weeks, the river will go dry until farmers get their next irrigation allotments, likely in spring 2015.

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District ended its season July 31, while a Mexican irrigation district wrapped up its watering year Thursday. But some Rio Grande water bound for farmers in a neighboring district in Texas will continue flowing through Dona Ana County until Aug. 22.

This year's water allotment improved slightly compared with last year but reflected an ongoing drought, Elephant Butte Irrigation District officials said.

Some farmers have said they are unhappy with the levels in recent years, especially because they must pay district fees no matter how much water they receive. Some said they had to reduce acreage or have lost crops to drought.

"It was extremely unsatisfactory — the amount of water we got," said Las Cruces-area pecan farmer Les Fletcher.

Groundwater pumping helped many Mesilla Valley and Hatch-area growers get by.

Gary Esslinger of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District said it stopped taking water from the river by July 29, but runoff allowed the district to reopen briefly.

"We were able to stretch it a little bit farther because the monsoon kicked in," he said.

The El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean has increased the chance for more late-summer rainfall than usual, forecasters say. That usually means more precipitation for the Southwest.

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Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com

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