Experts say Quay County irrigation drought may end soon

By William Thompson: Quay County Sun

It won’t take much more rain to end the irrigation water shortages for Quay County farmers, experts said.

Rain in the Roy, Springer or Wagon Mound areas could fill Conchas Lake, the irrigation source for area farmers, said Leonard Lauriault, forage agronomist with the New Mexico State University Ag Science Center in Tucumcari.

“One good five-inch rain would fill Conchas Lake and we would have plenty of irrigation water for Quay County,” Lauriault said. “We’d be back in business the way we were before the drought. It is possible we could get that one good rain at anytime now.”

The lack of rainfall north of Conchas Lake has left less water in Conchas Lake that can be used for irrigation in Quay County, according to Lauriault.

Although farmers may have felt like there was a drought in Quay County in recent years because irrigation waters were less available, Lauriault said, the word “drought” shouldn’t be applied to Quay County.

“Our rains in Quay County have remained around average,” Lauriault said. “The problem in the past has been that the Conchas watershed area has received below average rains. In 2003 that area received 8 inches below normal precipitation, but in 2004 the watershed area received four and three quarter inches of rain above the total annual precipitation average, putting us where we are now.”

San Jon area rancher Paul Gibson said he is happy with the 2004 rains.

“The rains saved our hide,” Gibson said. “Our cattle were just about starved out. It rained heavily in July and August. By September we were in good shape.”

NMSU County Extension Agent Pete Walden said things look good heading into spring.

“We have deep soil moisture,” Walden said. “We’re in excellent condition. If we are still wet by the middle of April, farmers will have plenty of water to start their crops.”
Walden cautioned that typical spring winds could pose a problem without further rain.

“Without more rain, the spring winds could dry up that moisture,” Walden said.

Lauriault said most of the 2004 precipitation fell in the second half of the year, filling the soil moisture profile so that any future above average precipitation in the Conchas watershed area will be more likely to run off into Conchas Lake.

Gibson said farmers and ranchers like him remain hopeful.

“We’d like to think the rains will continue, but for us it’s always year-to-year.”