Lack of water impacting farmers in Donna

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A lack of water is affecting farmers and ranchers in Donna. 

John Billman is getting ready to plant the seeds for Donna’s Corn Maze. The business has faced challenges in the past years due to the pandemic and a restriction on public gatherings, but this year, Billman says it's the lack of water.

“I was just going to order some water for my pasture, for my animals and I was told that there was no water,” Billman said. “'What do you mean there's no water? Well, the district doesn't have any water.'”

Billman says in order to have tall corn in October, he needs to pre-water in July and start planting. The maze brings in thousands of visitors, he says. Billman pays for water rights, but now, the supply allotted to the Donna Irrigation District is all used up.

“They somehow mismanaged that allocated water that belongs to me, and belongs to every other property owner in the Donna Irrigation District,” Billman said.

A sign posted on the Donna Irrigation District's door says as of June 20, 2022, there is no water until further notice, "unless you bought contract water."

Channel 5 News reached out to the Donna Irrigation District for clarification, but staff said the manager is out sick.

The latest drought monitor map shows the Valley is not experiencing drought conditions, but regions upriver along the Rio Grande are experiencing problems.

A majority of the state is in a drought and it's putting a strain on agriculture producers.

“It's not the worst we've been but this is definitely not a comfortable position to be in," said Sonny Hinojosa, who manages water for the San Juan Irrigation District.

Hinojosa says on top of South Texas not getting much rain, Mexico is behind on its treaty obligations to deliver water to the U.S.

Falcon reservoir near Zapata is at a 22-year low and Amistad Reservoir is at a 9-year low. Both supply water to the Valley.

"There are a lot of water right owners that are short on water," Hinojosa said. "A lot of them are restricting their use or allocation to their customers as far as irrigation districts are concerned."

With four months left to go, what'll happen to the corn maze?

"I'm going to open Donna's Corn Maze in October with no corn maze," Billman said. "How silly does that sound?"

"I'm not concerned about your green lawn, and I don't think you should be either if we're going to run out of water very soon or we're going to be restricted heavily," Billman said. "But that's not happening. By the time these politicians say something, we're already too late. We're already in a dire situation."

Less water and the future of this landmark are now uncertain.


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