The Rio Grande has always been a river of inconsistencies. In the past, there were always dry years, but almost inevitably they were followed by years of ample snowfall and monsoons. That’s no longer the case. 

“The last 20 years, I think without a doubt, have been the driest years in our recorded history,” says Glen Duggins, who has farmed the Southern Rio Grande for 37 years. 

Duggins now relies on groundwater to meet the needs of his 400-acre farm in Lemitar, N.M. It’s an expensive and ephemeral solution to a greater problem, as he’s the first to admit. 

Small farmers, who can’t afford the high cost of groundwater, have embraced techniques like drip irrigation and hoop houses to conserve the water flowing through their acequias. 

“How can we work on using our water in a wise way so that our neighbors downstream can continue to use their water?” asks Ralph Vigil, an 8th generation farmer in Pecos and chairman of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

Justin Schatz has covered environmental and rural issues affecting New Mexico since graduating from the University of New Mexico in 2019. Before focusing on journalism, he was a wilderness ranger in the...