Water Resources Professional Project Reports

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2022


Valencia County, comprised of a collection of farming communities in the Middle Rio Grande of central New Mexico, is undergoing a fundamental change in its irrigated agriculture. Historically, over recent decades, it has had many smaller-sized farms, or “hobby farms”, with fewer larger commercial enterprises, and with alfalfa as its dominant crop. But in recent years, it has seen a significant expansion of acreage devoted to pecan orchards – a higher value commercial crop that also is substantially higher in water use. Some of these orchards have been planted on land not previously irrigated. The Rio Grande flows through the county and is the primary source of irrigation water. All the water flowing in the Rio Grande is already allocated. Agricultural, municipal, industrial, and environmental water uses are competing for the use of a scarce resource. Climate change, in particular a lengthened growing season, appears to be one of the drivers of the expansion of pecans acreage. But climate change also is decreasing flows in the Rio Grande, and therefore the available water to meet Valencia County’s competing needs. The objective of this investigation is to identify the main water policy implications of farming high-water-use crops, such as pecans, in Valencia County, as well as the viability for the county of using techniques such as water rights ‘stacking’, as has been used elsewhere, to try to reduce stress on the hydrologic system.


Agricultural water use, agriculture, Middle Rio Grande, pecan evapotranspiration, pecan water use, pecans, stacked water rights, stacking, Valencia County, water management, water policy, water rights stacking, water use