Water plan meeting focuses on law

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Adherence to statutes on all levels of government took center stage during Monday’s Northeast Regional Water Plan meeting at the Tucumcari Convention Center.

The meeting was the final public meeting in preparation for a draft of the plan from the Northeast Region, one of 16 regions in New Mexico that includes Quay, Curry, Roosevelt, Harding and Union Counties.

The regional water plan will be ready in draft form near the end of June, and the steering committee will meet to address final concerns before the plan is made available online and at places of public access (city and county government buildings, community centers) in the communities included in the Northeast Region.

That plan, when finalized later this year, will be combined with the other 15 regions in a state water plan.

Presenters gave those in attendance a draft of the region’s definition of public welfare, a series of conditions that would allow Office of the State Engineer to consider water transfers in relation to:

• Cooperation to manage surface water and groundwater resources;

• Encouraging rural economic development by providing water and discouraging waste;

• Planning for economic and population growth;

• Protecting current and anticipated future water rights;

• Local economies;

• Preventing the abuse of eminent domain laws;

• Protecting water quality and

• Managing watersheds.

Through the application of public welfare, presenters at Monday’s meeting believed it would make out-of-state water transfers a rarity. Susan C. Kery of Sheehan, Sheehan and Stelzner of Albuquerque felt out-of-state transfers would be rare because one of the prime reasons for creating the state water plan is to keep water — and water rights — from leaving the state.

“The reality, I believe, is (an out-of-state transfer is) not going to be approved,” Kery said. “Somebody would have to jump over some pretty high hurdles.”

In other matters addressed at the meeting:

• Tucumcari resident Mike Burns said he was concerned about the future of the Ogallala Aquifer that New Mexico shares with Texas and Oklahoma. There is no agreement regarding how each state is required to use the water, and Burns is concerned about how a cheese plant set for construction in Dalhart, Texas, will impact the aquifer’s quality in the future.

• Harding County representatives expressed concerns their county was being shortchanged on water rights, primarily water going into the Ute Lake Reservoir that first travels through the county.

Through an agreement with the Ute Water Commission and the Interstate Streams Committee, entities of the UWC may purchase 24,000 acre feet per year of water from the reservoir at $1.50 per acre foot through 2046.