Plant wants water with its cheese

By Jack King

While the Clovis City Commission approved a memorandum of understanding with Southwest Cheese Co., the company is still in discussions over water rights and water services with the state of New Mexico and New Mexico American Water Co., city officials said Monday.
Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corp., said at full operation, Southwest Cheese is expected to use about 800,000 gallons of water a day.
Kent Turner, vice president of business development for New Mexico American Water Co., said his discussions with Southwest Cheese officials have centered on the amount of water New Mexico American can provide and on the amount of water available in the area. He said the cheese plant is expected to begin operation in 2005.
“We said that by 2005 New Mexico American could provide them with 450,000 gallons of water a day, with no changes to our system,” he said.
“They’ve also asked about 850,000 gallons a day. We’ve said for that amount we would have to invest in additional wells especially for them and their water rate would be higher. It’s normal procedure that when we do something specifically for one customer that is reflected in their rate,” he said.
Turner said Southwest Cheese’s rate also would reflect the fact that it is the first industrial user New Mexico American has served in New Mexico. Industrial rates usually are a little lower per gallon than residential rates, because there are no peak and down times in industrial use, as there are in residential, he said.
Any water rate New Mexico American charges the cheese plant will have to be approved by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, Turner added.
“We’ve had several discussions about how much water is available in the Clovis area,” he said. “It’s no secret that water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer are going down.
“For us to consider them as a customer, we would have to be sure they would have a net positive effect on the aquifer, rather than a negative one. By transferring water rights from agricultural to municipal-industrial use, they would have a positive effect on water use in the area, because municipal-industrial users are allowed a smaller allotment than agricultural users,” he said.
Frank Bradley, the State Engineer’s supervisor for the Portales water basin, said agricultural users are allowed a diversion amount of 3 acre feet of water per acre of land, but when the right is transferred to municipal-industrial use, the user is only allowed the “consumptive use” amount of the water of 1.29 acre feet of water per acre.
An acre foot is approximately 326,000 gallons.
Southwest Cheese president Maurice Keane said water is a key issue for the cheese plant.
“To ensure there will be an adequate, sustainable and cost effective supply is a key issue. It is an issue we will continue to ensure over the next period, be we are confident we will have a satisfactory outcome,” he said.