Spraying to eradicate salt cedars

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

By Chelle Delaney
A spraying program to kill salt cedars on land along 160 miles of the Canadian River in New Mexico and Texas is hoped to help the flow of water into Lake Meredith, said officials of the Canadian Municipal Water Authority.

Last week, Lake Meredith hit an all-time low, said Chad Pernell, Deputy Manager of the authority. The lake supplies water to some 500,000 people in 11 cities in the Texas panhandle including Amarillo and Lubbock.

“They’re trying to get more water into Lake Meredith, but it will also be a great benefit to us,” said Jim Frank Richardson, who has been ranching for 17 years on more than 25,000 acres in Quay County. A section of his ranch is bounded by the Texas border.

“We hope to see the springs opening up and the water table rising,” Richardson said.

The program, which costs about $2 million, is funded in part by the federal government and the authority, Pernell said. The spaying is done by helicopter because it can get in and around the rough terrain to target the salt cedars with an herbicide, while avoiding trees like cottonwoods, which the ranchers told the authority they wanted to preserve, Pernell said.

Out at his ranch, Richardson said he began early Tuesday morning meeting with the helicopter pilot and others involved in the spraying. The operation includes a helicopter and a fuel supply truck with a platform that the helicopter can land on to refuel.

“When I first came here there weren’t any salt cedars. But as it’s gotten hotter and dryer, they’ve moved out into the (Ranya) creek bed,” Richardson said.

It’s estimated that a one salt cedar, 12 to 15 feet high, uses 200 gallons of water per day, said Rod Goodwin, biologist for the authority.

With the salt cedars gone, it’s expected that water runoff along the Canadian River will increase and that the water table along the Canadian will rise, as well.

The combined effect should add to the Lake Meredith’s volume, Goodwin said.

At this time, it’s difficult to measure the results, but readings from seven shallow monitoring wells along the Canadian River over the coming months and years should provide the data to demonstrate the effect of spraying and killing off the salt cedars, Goodwin said.

Salt cedars were introduced to the states from Asia and touted for their ability to stave off erosion and to serve as natural wind breaks, Goodwin said.

Richardson said they are tough on the land. “Nothing will grow near them because they slough off a lot of salt. Some people will argue they are good for wind breaks, but they are no benefit to us.”