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The amount of rain that falls in a given year or place in the basin is unpredictable. Throughout the basin, potential evapotranspiration is much higher than rainfall, meaning the ground is dry most of the time unless it is irrigated.
Vegetation includes desert scrub and grassland in the lower levels, riparian woodland (bosque) along the Rio Grande, and woods on the mountain slopes.
) is one of the largest and deepest of the structural basins in the Rio Grande rift. Geologically, the Albuquerque Basin is a half-graben that slopes down towards the east to terminate on the Sandia and Manzano mountains.
In times of low water levels in the Rio Grande, Albuquerque relies on groundwater for its potable water supply.
The MSGCD still maintains a large network of canals and irrigation systems that stretches from 30 miles (48 km) north of Albuquerque through the city down to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
As of 2012 the MRGCD was responsible for an area of 278,000 acres (113,000 ha), of which 128,787 acres (52,118 ha) could be irrigated and 70,000 acres (28,000 ha) were in fact being irrigated by 11,000 farmers.
A transfer zone running in a southwest direction connected the two.
During the Middle to Late Miocene era the Albuquerque and Espanola basins formed one basin, an irregular half-graben tilting west, formed by high-angle faulting on reactivated structures from the Laramide orogeny.
To the east, alluvial fans and stream terraces descend to the river from the mountains that form the eastern boundary of the basin.
West of the river the Llano de Albuquerque contains only isolated mountains and volcanoes, sloping gradually up to the Rio Puerco.
Within the stretch between these dams, the river passes three mainstream structures that divert water into 1,280 kilometres (800 mi) of levees, canals and drains in the section between Algodones and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
When the river is low, the diversion dams at Isleta and San Acacia can divert all water from the Rio Grande along a 177 kilometres (110 mi) stretch of the river.