Pickens group makes water pitch

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ Staff Writer

T. Boone Pickens, one of the country’s wealthiest and most well-known oil men, is selling something else in the ground — water.

Representatives of Pickens’ company, Mesa Water LLC, met Thursday in Clovis with a bevy of local and state representatives and business owners. The group had an information session on whether Mesa could provide Clovis and the surrounding area with water and at what cost.

No concrete costs were discussed. The purpose of the meeting was to inform and gauge interest, officials said.

State Land Commissioner and Clovis native Patrick Lyons met Pickens’ representatives at a recent land commissioner’s conference, and invited them to Clovis for the session.

Lyons favors no particular water project, but said, “The more water we have, the more economic opportunities we can have.”

Simply put, Mesa legislative consultant James E. “Buster” Brown said, “We have water, and it’s for sale.”

Mesa President Robert Stillwell said Pickens has purchased more than 250,000 acres of water rights along the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers the Texas Panhandle and parts of New Mexico.

Stillwell said it’s his understanding the water Mesa owns the rights to — which he said could produce 200,000 acre feet annually for 100 years — is the company’s to sell to New Mexico, Texas or anybody else because groundwater is considered the property of the landowner; in this case, Pickens.

Stillwell said the groundwater in the aquifer hasn’t shown a “bathtub effect,” under which water taken is recharged at the detriment of the groundwater supply for those who own neighboring land.

“The good news about our water is it’s not going anywhere. Even with extensive farming, our groundwater hasn’t been pulled away from us,” Stillwell said.

Any deal with Mesa Water, Stillwell said, would likely require participation from additional entities. Stillwell said the company wouldn’t be comfortable negotiating a deal for less than 35,000 acre feet, and the combined water needs of Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority members is less than half that — about 16,500 acre feet.

An acre foot is the amount of water that would fill one acre of a reservoir to a depth of one foot, roughly 325,850 gallons.

Members of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority informed Mesa representatives of the progress of the Ute Water Project. Randy Crowder, Clovis Mayor Pro Tem Randy Crowder, an alternate member of the authority, said the Ute Water Project is heading for approval in a Senate omnibus bill later this year and has already cleared many of the legal hurdles Mesa would face.

Stillwell noted a potential for border problems regarding eminent domain differences between states, but countered that any large-scale water project would require some eminent domain.

Walter Bradley, business and government director for Dairy Farmers of America, said he felt it would be worth at least drawing up a letter of intent and a confidentiality agreement to study the area’s water needs and if Mesa could help.

“They have a lot of legal hurdles to clear,” Bradley said, “(but) never shut off your options.”