Drought aggravates area water problems

By Gary Mitchell

Clovis’ water supplier has asked residents to stop watering their lawns for a few days, but company officials insist the request does not signal major water shortages in the near future.
New Mexico-American Water Co. officials said during a Thursday press conference that the shortage is temporary and due to an unusually dry July and growth in the company’s customer base.
“I hope it’s not an indicator of a series of things to come,” company Manager Kathy Wright said. “We’ve had a dry period. When it’s dry, everybody suffers. I really think it’s weather-related.”
The Ogallala Aquifer usually drops 1 to 3 acre feet per year, according to Leland Tillman, executive director of Eastern Plains Council of Governments, who has conducted extensive research on the area water depletion. It’s dropped 9 feet this year, New Mexico-American officials have said.
Tillman agreed weather has been a factor in the request for limiting use, but he also said events of the past few days are verification of the need for greater water sources.
“To me, it’s a dramatic demonstration of the trend that we will have continuing problems with depletion,” he said. “It’s aggravated by a prolonged drought period. The aquifer has lost 1 to 3 feet annually over the last 20-30 years. That’s how it averages out. This past year just affirms the continuing trend line of annual depletion.”
Tillman said there was a documented drop in the aquifer of 15 feet in 1997, but “it was in a high-demand area” to the south and east of the Curry-Roosevelt line. Other areas didn’t record that great a drop in the aquifer level, Tillman said.
“It varies within a few miles, depending on what the demand is and how many wells are operating in that area,” he said. “There is increasing concentration of demand in the deepest saturated areas.”
Clovis has gone the month of July without a measurable amount of rain for the first time since at least 1911, when the National Weather Service started keeping records.
Jim Bonner, operations manager for New Mexico-American, said the shortage right now is due to “a combination of factors.”
“The aquifer’s dropping, and it’s been so hot and dry that people have done extreme water usage,” he said. “We’ve got plans to put in more wells.”
Bonner said the company plans to add six to seven wells in the next two years plus increase its storage capacity.
Bonner said if people will cut back on the water usage for about three days, it will allow the company to fill its storage tanks.
Despite the dip in the water table, New Mexico-American Water Co. officials say they’re prepared to provide water to eastern New Mexico through 2040.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford, however, has said the area could run dry in 16 years.
A July 2000 regional water plan published by the Eastern Plains Council of Governments estimated the region’s water supply was good for more than 30 years, if we continue to use it at the same rate.
The plan uses information taken from the state engineer. It estimates the aquifer has about 35 years of life left in Curry County southeast of Clovis and 33 years in Roosevelt County east of Portales.