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Santo Domingo Pueblo Tackles Drought with NRCS Help

The new irrigation pipelines have restored agriculture to many drought-affected fields

A newly installed irrigation valve used to water fields of alfalfa, corn, green chile & other crops.
New irrigation pipelines have restored agriculture to many of the tribe’s drought-affected fields.

Just off the Rio Grande River sits Santo Domingo Pueblo, a community in New Mexico surrounded by a sea of green -- fields of alfalfa, oats and Sudan grass and small gardens to grow fresh vegetables.

But the community has been at risk of drying out. Over the past few years, New Mexico has struggled through one of our nation’s worst droughts. Little rain and a dwindling river have threatened many of the pueblo’s fields and gardens.

“Many of the fields were in fallow because there wasn’t enough water because of the shortage,” said Jonathan Garcia, Water Resources Manager for the Pueblo.

After partnering with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, pueblo residents found a way to grow more using less water, keeping their fields and gardens healthy.

The tribe received financial assistance from NRCS through USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity. The national initiative addresses high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 16 states, including New Mexico, with a special emphasis on historically underserved communities and producers in counties with persistent poverty.

Pueblo residents worked with NRCS to save water by improving soil health through conservation practices such as rotating crops and planting cover crops. Healthy soil retains more moisture, allowing for less water to be applied during irrigation.

They also installed an efficient underground water irrigation system to replace some of the aging earthen irrigation ditches to 50 fields that stretched across more than 200 acres.

“The water efficiency improvements have helped out tremendously and everyone in the 200 plus acres is able to plant this season using the same amount of water as before,” Garcia said.

The new watering system and conservation practices have made all the difference. The once-parched fields of the pueblo are flourishing — a notable feat even in non-drought years. And now fields that used to take two days to irrigate can be watered in just four hours.

“The pueblo is applying science to the field hand-in-hand with their traditional methods, and it’s working,” said Jean Foster, an NRCS New Mexico soil conservation technician who worked extensively on the project.

Much of the work through StrikeForce focuses on encouraging efficient use of water in agricultural operations.

“We’re now studying another area just south of our village to consider putting in a similar irrigation system for about 300 more acres,” said Garcia. “On a scale of 1 to 10, the project’s success has been an 11.”

StrikeForce is creating conservation opportunities in rural communities and tribes across the nation. Learn more.