RGV rain help, hindrance

Recent heavy rains in the Lower Rio Grande Valley have been good news for some, bad for others.

In spite of flooding that causes property damage, reservoir levels at Falcon and Amistad dams, the area's main water sources, are rising from record low levels.

Ruben Quintanilla, river operations manager with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Harlingen, said levels at both dams continue to rise as water from the recent rains flows in.

“As of March 27, combined U.S. ownership at Amistad and Falcon was at 61.45 percent of conservation capacity,” said Quintanilla. “That's up from 41.58 percent at this time a year ago. Levels will rise for a week or so, depending on how much more it rains.”

Quintanilla said while river levels downstream at Rio Grande City had been rising, he suspected the bulk of the water had already made its way through the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico.

While the Valley benefits from improved soil conditions and less drain on limited water reserves, rains have slowed the local sugar industry.

Randy Rolando, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers said the most recent rains will add another week to their already six-week rain delay in harvesting.

“March is the best month to harvest,” Rolando said. “In April, cane goes into a growth period and sugars start to decline. We end up bringing in more pieces of cane that don't have sugar, which is more trash that we need to deal with at the mill.”

Rolando said 72 percent of this year's 43,000 acres of sugarcane have been harvested.

Welcomed for cotton, sorghum

Valley cotton and sorghum growers welcomed rain for their newly planted crops. But onion, cantaloupe and watermelon growers could have done without the moisture. All three crops have begun suffering from downy mildew, a fungal disease that can kill plants. The disease had not been seen this season prior to the rains.

“This would have been the peak of the harvest that started in mid March, but the rains have held that up and are now promoting disease,” said Juan Anciso, vegetable specialist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

Rain and hot weather also trigger rotting in mature onions. Anciso hoped a dry cold front would slow down rotting long enough to harvest the remaining bulbs.

“There are no onions moving through the packing sheds right now,” Anciso said. “That means we should be seeing higher market prices, but we're not. They've dropped from $28 (per 50-pound bag) to between $6 and $7. I suspect buyers are playing a wait-and-see game.”

With the Valley's citrus harvest almost complete, heavy rains bring good and bad news to what has been an excellent crop this year, said John da Graca, deputy director at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco.

“The rain saves irrigations,” da Graca said, “but it delays picking the end of the harvest and it provides great opportunity for rust mite, which blemishes the fruit. But it's just too wet to get in the fields to either harvest or treat for rust mite.”

Jim Subject, owner/operator of Associated Critter Control in Donna, said his bee extermination business has seen an increase Valley-wide since the heavy rains of mid-March.

“Rain is life,” Subject said. “When it rains, all living things do well, including bees. It's been very busy this spring.”

Rain promotes plant life that helps bees store more pollen and nectar that eventually overcrowd their combs, he said. That prompts half the bees to find a new home, which is when Subject is called.

“It's not necessarily more bees that give us the added business, it's the fact that people get out to mow their lawns more often and see new bees that they want exterminated,” he said.

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