But Matt Schmader, Open Space division superintendent, said, “it isn’t fall until the maze is open.”
The farm opened this year after a year-long break because of the drought, he said. The Open Space was not able to secure water rights, and when the monsoon season hit so late in the summer, it wasn’t enough to keep the corn alive.
To combat water issues this year, the farm’s staff chose to use sorghum, which is a tall grass-like stalk, instead of corn, he said. It still gives the same effect as corn does in the maze, but it requires far less water.
“It’s a sorghum maze, and it’s better that it’s sorghum because it uses less water and is more reliable to grow,” Schmader said. “It is more forgiving about the timing, because with corn if you miss some timing on your watering, it just gives up.”
At the end of the season, the sorghum will die and become a multiple purpose area, he said. It will act as food for the wildlife, keep the soil in place, and then fertilize the soil for the next year.
However, he said he’s not sure what will happen with the water rights for next year.
The Rio Grande Community Farm does not own any water rights to the land, he said, but leases them every year, and typically it is from a different person each time.
“I am pretty hopeful that they will find enough rights lying around, but the water authority hangs on to every right that they can,” Schmader said.
Isaac Benton, the Albuquerque District 2 councilor, said the city will do everything that is necessary to keep the farm going.
“Long term, we are working on solutions as well, and long term is really where it is at,” he said.
The city is working with the Open Space to make sure the farm will have water annually. One solution is to secure long term leased water rights, he said.
When the property was purchased, the water rights did not transfer with it, he said. Short term, the farm will lease water or borrow water; eventually he would like to see the farm purchase their own water rights. But that may be easier said than done.
“You have to identify somebody that wants to sell,” Benton said. “The market is very robust in water in New Mexico, as you can imagine.”
This year, the city council paid for one year of water to help keep the maze open, he said. The council will have to do the same thing again next year if the farm can’t secure water rights and make a deal somewhere.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s webpage, the drought is almost removed from portions of southeastern New Mexico, yet continues to afflict the northern and eastern parts of the state.
While the maze may be up and running, the state is still struggling with a drought. About two-thirds of the state is still in a moderate-extreme drought, and one-third is in a severe-extreme drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Bruce Milne, director of UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program, said rain is very important in a high desert like New Mexico, and over the last 25 years, the state’s water use has decreased. About 60 percent of New Mexico’s total water use is for agriculture, he said.
“It takes a certain amount of water to grow any kind of vegetable or fruit,” Milne said. “It’s about 40 gallons of water to grow a pound of fruit or a pound of vegetables in this area.”
The difficulty is keeping the plants alive long enough to actually grow any type of produce, he said. The water still does good underground, he said. It can be stored for up to a month, but it still helps the ecosystem.
“The water is, meanwhile, used by trees, shrubs, wild plants that are good for the biodiversity,” Milne said. “It’s a good habitat for endangered birds to live in and habitats for insects to live in that are beneficial for your organic farm.”
Moriah Carty is staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MoriahCarty.