1. Evapotranspiration (ET) is a major source of water depletion from riverine systems in arid and semiarid climates. Water budgets have produced estimates of total depletions from riparian vegetation ET for a 320-km reach of the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico, U.S.A., that have ranged from 20 to 50% of total depletions from the river.
2. Tower-based micrometeorological measurements of riparian zone ET throughout the growing season using three-dimensional eddy covariance provided high quality estimates of ET at the stand scale.
3. A dense stand of salt cedar (111–122 cm year–1) and a mature cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. wislizenia Eckenwelder) stand with an extensive understory of salt cedar (Tamaria ramosissima Ledeb) and Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia L.) (123 cm year–1) had the highest rates of annual ET. A mature cottonwood stand with a closed canopy had intermediate rates of ET (98 cm year–1). A less dense salt cedar stand had the lowest rates of ET (74–76 cm year–1).
4. Summer leaf area index (LAI) measurements within the four stands were positively correlated with daily ET rates. LAI measurements throughout the growing season coupled to riparian vegetation classification is a promising method for improving riverine corridor estimates of total annual riparian zone ET along a reach of river.
5. Combining recent estimates of the extent of riparian vegetation along the 320 km length of the Middle Rio Grande, from Landsat 7 imagery with annual growing season measurements of ET at the four riparian stands yields a first-order riverine corridor estimate of total riparian zone ET of 150–250 × 106 m3 year–1. This is approximately 20–33% of total estimated depletions along this reach of river.