State asks for input on water

By Jack King

State Engineer John D’Antonio said his office needs input from residents on regional water needs and has scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Clovis-Carver Public Library.
The meeting is one of 29 the Office of the State Engineer has scheduled statewide to get public input in preparation for a state water plan Gov. Bill Richardson hopes to have in place by the end of 2003, D’Antonio said last week.
Discussion at the meetings will cover any water concerns area residents want to bring up, D’Antonio said. In broad outline, topics will include identifying a water supply, conservation, water shed health, development of new sources of water and administration of water rights.
“The point is to involve people in the problem-solving process,” D’Antonio said.
Water issues in the region are diverse, D’Antonio said.
Among the region’s issues:
– The Ute Lake Water project being developed by the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority: D’Antonio said the Richardson administration is committed to seeing the project work and it is one of his office’s top priorities. At $210 million, the Ute Lake Water project is expensive, but D’Antonio said the State Engineer’s office is supporting other, equally expensive projects around the state, such as the Navajo-Gallup pipeline near Farmington and a Gila River project near Silver City.
– A water treaty with Texas: D’Antonio said the treaty is needed, especially in eastern New Mexico. Because Texas’ “rule of capture” water law allows landowners to pump unlimited amounts of groundwater from under their land, Texas residents are pulling more water out of the Ogallala Aquifer than landowners in New Mexico. Richardson has extended several invitations to Texas officials to begin a dialogue on water use, with little response, he said.
– A “critical management area” in eastern New Mexico: The State Engineer’s office can designate a “critical management area” in a locale where water supplies become critical. D’Antonio said he would like to declare a critical management area in the eastern part of the state, including Curry County, by early next year. Among other provisions, there can be no new appropriations of water in a critical management area. This means that if someone wanted to create a business in the area that used water he would have to obtain water rights from an entity that already owned them, he said.
In a critical management area, the state also might place meters on private wells, D’Antonio said. He defended the practice, saying monitoring actually protects the rights of senior water rights holders.
– A regional water plan: Region 1, which includes Curry, DeBaca, Guadalupe, Harding, Roosevelt, Quay, Union counties and an eastern part of San Miguel county is one of 10 regional water planning areas in New Mexico that do not have a regional water plan accepted by the Interstate Stream Commission. Eastern Plains Council of Governments executive director Lee Tillman said recently he hopes to have a plan ready for ISC acceptance after the first of the year.
County Commissioner Kathrynn Tate said it is important to attend the public meeting and make comments — particularly for residents involved in agriculture.
“If they are going to restrict the use of water by agriculture producers, they need to come up with a system to compensate them,” she said.