Water officials worry about concerns being ignored

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Quay County representatives are concerned their citizens’ needs for water will be trumped by areas with bigger populations in a state water plan.

They voiced such concerns during Tuesday morning’s Northeast New Mexico Regional Water Planning meeting at the Tucumcari Convention Center.

Quay County is part of Region No. 1, one of 16 regions working on plans to align with a state water plan later this year. Region No. 1 includes five counties — Quay, Harding, Union, Curry and Roosevelt.

All but two regions, the Northeast and Taos regions, have completed their plans for New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission.

The meeting was one of four public meetings this week to discuss the regional water plan. Presenters conducted a meeting Tuesday night in Clayton and Monday night in Portales.

Quay County Commission Chairman Franklin McCasland and Logan City Manager Larry Wallin told presenters with Daniel B. Stephens & Associates they have been working to secure water rights for their entities, and they are concerned the state engineer can place any or all of Quay County’s needs behind the priorities of New Mexico’s large cities.

“That’s one of the problems we deal with,” McCasland said. “The state engineer can change all of the rules.”

Daniel B. Stephens & Associates is a private contractor for the development of a regional water plan.

Sam Morrow, who owns Mesa Real Estate in Logan, said other counties in the Northeast Region, such as Curry and Roosevelt, need to have water rights protected for dairies and other agricultural business.

Morrow joked that “cows don’t have a vote,” but citizens in Albuquerque and Santa Fe do, and their power at the ballot box means they have less responsibility to conserve water.

“I have a hard time (justifying) taking water out of a place to (give to) people who aren’t conserving what they’re getting,” Morrow said.

During her presentation, DBS&A hydrogeologist Amy Ewing gave a water supply assessment. She said irrigation farming is responsible for the bulk of the water pumped out of the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers much of Roosevelt and Curry counties. Ewing gave information during the meeting that by 2020, saturation thickness will be at an all-time low of less than 100 feet by 2020.

An aquifer’s usable life is considered done when its saturation thickness is less than 30 feet.

“We know that demand is higher than supply,” Ewing said, “so we can either find new water or save some.”

Ewing also addressed the region’s definition of public welfare. Legal precedents allow the state engineer to deny water deals if they would harm the public welfare, but there is no legal definition for the term. Each of the regions has determined its own definition.

“We figure the regions can define it,” Ewing said, “and hopefully that will be taken into account by the state.”

The public steering committee determined specific public welfare values including:

• Planning to sustain growth.

• Protecting water quality.

• Encouraging conservation.

• Preventing eminent domain.

• Ensuring all local needs are satisfied prior to consideration of outside transfers of water.

Ewing said the regional plan will be submitted to the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission by June 30. The next public steering committee meeting in Tucumcari is set for May 15.