Area farmers struggling with water restraints

File photo Farmers in Quay County were forced to cut back even further on water last year because of low levels of Conchas Lake.

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

Area farmers are having to deal with water restraints limiting them to seasonal crops or even preventing them from planting crops.

In Curry and Roosevelt Counties, the State Engineer has closed new appropriations of ground water from the High Plains aquifer in Curry-Portales Underground Water Basins (CPUWBs) since November 2009.

“All this is being done to ensure a more sustainable water source in the future,” said State Engineer John D’Antonio. “New appropriations are not being allowed to protect senior water rights.”

D’Antonio said wells in the area have a lifespan 10 to 30 years with current use. He said efforts and management plans are being studied to extend those years.

Closing the basin does not change what the dairies have been doing over the years, said Walter Bradley, director of government and industry relations for Dairy Farmers of America Inc.’s southwest area.

Bradley said when a dairy wants to move into the area, they apply for a commercial well appropriation with 1.29 acre feet.

“What dairies have done is purchase the water rights from another area farmer,” Bradley said. “Now they have access to a well with 3 acre feet versus one with only 1.29 acre-feet.”

Bradley said management and water conservation is needed by industry, municipal government and agriculture interests to ensure the areas agricultural revenue isn’t jeopardized.

“We do not want to jeopardize the irrigated farmers ability to operate,” Bradley said. “Agriculture is a large portion of the revenue generated in this area.”

Declining water levels is nothing new to area farmers.

Wayne Baker, a Roosevelt County farmer, said that he along with many other farmers have had to cut back on acres they water.

“Sometimes you plant summer or winter crops,” Baker said. “Hardly anyone has water to fully irrigate the entire farm like is needed.”

Baker said area farmers have learned conservation techniques over the years to make the water last longer. He said originally wells were projected to be in use for only 40 years.

“We made the water last a lot longer then it was thought to last,” Baker said. “We will still be irrigating for awhile, but not like it used to be.”

D’Antonio said the state’s efforts are not to cut off economic development. He said existing appropriations can be transferred for municipal and industrial purposes.

“We will allow a change in place, purpose and use of existing water appropriations,” D’Antonio said.

D’Antonio said a farmer could transfer their water rights to a dairy allowing that industry to access their appropriation. He said a new well would be placed and a survey is done to ensure the new well’s pumping does not affect existing well levels in the area.

“Typically the farmer and the industry come to an agreement for the use of the water rights,” D’Antonio said.

Farmers in Quay County were forced to cut back even further last year because of low levels of Conchas Lake.

“There were no allocations of water from Arch Hurley in 2009,” said Franklin McCasland, Arch Hurley manager.

McCasland said many farmers did not plant crops this season because of the water shortage. A meeting is scheduled this week to address the issue.

D’Antonio said there had been allegations of over diversion of water in that area.

“They have the senior water rights allowing them to divert the water,” D’Antonio said. “Their water rights were established in 1850 to 1880.”

McCasland said no one has said they do not have water rights in the Mora area. He said the concern is the lack of state monitoring.

“We feel there should be state oversite monitoring and metering the water that is diverted,” McCasland said. “This should be done on the Canadian River and all of the individual tributaries such as the Mora River.” McCasland said with a set monitoring system if over diversion were to occur, water could be sent downstream and once again flow into Conchas Lake.

D’Antonio said they want to establish a water master in that area. He said that currently there is no metering in place to determine if over diversion is occurring.

“The problem right now is the state budget crunch,” D’Antonio said. “With a monitoring system in place water levels could be verified and there would be an equal distribution of water.

Arch Hurley meets 1 p.m. Thursday with Tim Farmer, OSE’s District 7 Supervisor.