Regional plan gives water conservation top priority

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

Nine strategies for conserving water in arid Northeast New Mexico are evaluated in a preliminary water plan released last week by a water resources and environmental consulting firm.

Municipal conservation, agricultural conservation, groundwater management, rangeland conservation and watershed management, water rights protection, Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, planning for growth, and dam construction are each evaluated in the preliminary Northeast New Mexico Regional Water Plan, issued by Daniel B. Stephens and Associates.

The preliminary plan addresses five counties, including Quay County, and states that: “Agricultural conservation probably represents the greatest opportunity for reducing demand and delaying depletion of aquifers.”

While the Ogallala Aquifer is considered the most threatened, only a small portion of it lies under Quay County, said Richard Primrose, Tucumcari city manager.

Primrose said the City of Tucumcari was the fiscal agent in charge of the plan and that he attended all public hearings in preparation of the plan. Primrose said he had not had the opportunity to review the entire plan but went through the recommended conservation activities for municipal sectors and Tucumcari.

Eight conservation avenues were noted for Tucumcari:

  • Implement a public education program
  • Consider revising rate structure to implement an increasing block rate structure
  • Continue implementing meter installation and replacement programs
  • Adopt and implement a water conservation plan
  • Complete a water system audit
  • Consider implementing a leak detection program for the water distribution system
  • Consider adding a water conservation ordinance, including drought management planning
  • Consider providing xeriscape incentives and requiring xeriscaping and graywater and /or rainwater systems in all new development

Primrose said the City of Tucumcari has or is implementing a majority of the recommended conservation activities for municipalities.

For example, “Last year we started a block rate structure, with a base rate of 3,000 gallons, a rate from 3,001 to 52,999 gallons and a higher rate that begins at 53,000 gallons [per billing period],” he said.

Primrose also said, “We’ve tried to put in new meters whenever we can.

“We have also gone to the touch-scan meter reading,” he said. Touch-scan allows a meter reader to hold an electronic device, much like a remote for a television, and to then touch the tab on a lid of the meter. The meter’s water reading at that moment is transferred electronically to the device.

That process is much more accurate than lifting up the lid and reading the meter visually, Primrose said.

The city has adopted a 40-year water conservation plan and a water system audit is conducted periodically, Primrose said. Audits, however, are not conducted that often he said because of their cost to the city.

A water conservation ordinance is in place, he said.

And, incentives for xeriscaping or graywater have not been put in place, he said. “It’s a Catch 22, because it costs the city to offer incentives. It may be something that we can do further down the road.”

Traditionally, incentives are offered by a reduction in property taxes and Tucumcari’s tax base is not that large, Primrose said.

Same eight conservation activities were also recommended for the villages of House, San Jon and Logan in Quay County.

In Curry County, Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the report will be used as a tool by city planners.

“I think,” he said, “the city will use it as a template for water-related issues.”

“By and large, it is a good plan,” Lansford said.

The report also underscores the importance of protecting water rights in the region.

“Due to the decreasing availability of groundwater, protecting the existing water rights and preventing out-of-region transfers are extremely important to the Northeast region,” the report reads.

Any large-scale transfers out of the Northeast Region are “strongly opposed” by the steering committee that commissioned the report.

That committee consists of representatives from counties, municipalities, agricultural sectors and other arenas, according to the report.

The Northeast New Mexico water planning region includes Union, Harding, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt Counties, and is one of 16 planning regions in the state. Each region must develop a regional water plan in accordance with state mandates.

In the next phase of the water plan project, the steering committee will identify priority water use and conservation strategies for the region.

Within 40 years, the primary source of water for much of the region, the Ogallala Aquifer, will be depleted, the report projects, citing numerous studies. Developing water use alternatives is of utmost importance to the bulk of the counties in the region, it states.

“The citizens of eastern New Mexico need to recognize that planning for future water availability is paramount over virtually everything else,” Lansford said.

The report is available for public viewing at the Tucumcari Public Library; and excerpts from the report are available online at www.dbstephens.com by clicking on the publications tab.

QCS Associate Publisher Chelle Delaney contributed to this report.