Groups look to tackle cleanup of Tucumcari Lake

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

City, state and federal officials will meet today to discuss the future of Tumcumcari Lake and how they can jointly work together to clean up and restore the lake, said Robert Abercrombie, coordinator of the El Llano Estacado Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) council.

Officials meeting are from the city of Tucumcari, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of Albuquerque and the RC&D, Abercrombie said.

“The lake’s become overladen with sediment,” Abercrombie said. “It’s become too large and too shallow. It’s also overgrown with salt cedars and cattails.”

The white deposits that line the edge of the lake bed are salts, Abercrombie said.

“What we need to study and to determine is how we can take the sediment out, how deep we can make it for fish populations as well as for migratory birds so that it can serve as a bird sanctuary.”

Ideally, the lake would be dreged to a greater depth, some vegetation would be cleared out and others thinned, such as the cattails so that a protective mosiac would provide windbreaks and shelter for migratory birds, Abercrombie said.

Another factor being considered is a court mandate requiring the Arch Hurley Conservacy District to drain the lake annually. Arch Hurley, according to the court order, is to keep the lake at a level that will accept the runoff from lands that it irrigates so that the runoff does not flow onto and damage personal or public property or prevent passage of public accesses.

“Hopefully, when we deepen the lake, and lower the water level, Arch Hurley wouldn’t be forced to do their annual pumping.” he said.

A clean-up project like Tucumcari Lake will take several years because of required environmental testing and state and federal approvals needed for the clean-up process, Abercrombie said.

The lake project is one of several being addressed by the RC&D which covers Curry, DeBaca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt and Union counties.

Abercrombie, who also serves as the acting district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation’s Canadian River and Southwest Quay Soil And Water Conservation districts in Quay County, highlighted some of the agencies recent projects in soil conservation and preservation.

In fiscal year 2006, from October 2005 to October 2006, it’s estimated that about $738,000 has been spent on conservation projects in Quay County, Abercrombie said.

Some of these projects have included those under the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) for initiating improvements on farms and ranches.

• One program has been brush control covering about 20,000 acres in Quay County. Mesquite, one-seeded junipers or salt cedars and cholla cactus have been removed either by mechanical means or by approved herbicides, Abercrombie said. “They are invasive species and rob moisture from the soil and the native grasses,” he said. “They are increasing naturally. It used to be that brush fires would have kept their populations down.”

• Another program is the installation of pivot sprinklers. The new sprinkler systems keep the water closer to soil and irrigate crops more efficiently, Abercrombie said. Farmers and ranchers have an incentive to improve their land using the EQIP program because the federal government picks up part of the tab, Abercrombie said.

Overall, the monsoon season has been a help to farmers and ranchers because they’ve had to rely less on programs or irrigation systems, Abercrombie said. “The rain’s been wonderful. We haven’t had rain like this in 10 years. There could have been some losses. Some farmers may have lost their hay because it rained on it in the fields after it was cut.

“But the benefits far outweigh the losses we’ve had from the rains.”

Landowners have also re-enrolled in the Crop Reserve Program (CRP) for 10 years. The dry land crop production reduces soil erosion, assists with price controls on crops and creates wildlife habitat, Abercrombie said.