Locals want water preserved for agricutlure in updated water plan

Thomas Garcia

Local farmers and ranchers, and area officials said water conservation and preservation of the Canadian River watershed, which supplies Conchas and Ute lakes, are high on the list of their recommendations to be included in an updated regional water plan.

On Wednesday about 30 Quay County residents and government officials attended a public hearing in Tucumcari held by the offices of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission on updating the Northeast Regional Water Plan.

Suggestions by the public for regional plans will be used to develop the 2009 State Water Plan, said Gretel Follingstad, ISC water planner. “Developing a state water plan will help us in future water issues. Planning is less expensive then reacting,” Follingstad said.

The Northeast region is one of 16 regions involved in the state water plan, first created in 2003 and now under revision. The region includes Union, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Follingstad said the region is expected to grow by 12,000 people by 2040, and water demands could lead to a shortfall of about 150,000 acre-feet per year.

The annual average water usage for the Northeast Region is 481,100 acre-feet. Of that, 86 percent is agricultural use and 3 percent for public use, Follingstad said.

A study on population growth through 2040 shows that the water demand will increase by 149,600 acre-feet, totaling 630,700 acre-feet a year.
An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot, about 326,000 gallons.

The shortage of water and predictions of shortages were no surprise to members of the Arch Hurley Conservancy District, which oversees the Tucumcari irrigation project, who attended the meeting.

Larry Perkins, president of the Arch Hurley board, said that the main concern is the water level of Conchas Lake which supplies water to the district’s canals to irrigate farms.

In Quay County a lot of agriculture depends on surface water, compared to Roosevelt and Curry counties in the southern part of the regional water plan which depends more on underground water, or the Ogallala Aquifer.

“If there is not an increased flow from the north or some long sustained rain there may be no water for farming,” Perkins said.

Among the suggestions for Northeast Regional Plan and the State Water Plan were:
l Communication with the surrounding states about their water plans to assist in developing New Mexico’s water plan.

Follingstad said that discussions with the surrounding states is an issue that the ISC will address but currently there are no policies in place.
l Dual purpose conservation education. “Conservation in Quay County will be different than Santa Fe. Rural and municipal conservation would help to ensure that all the county’s residents are educated,” Perkins said

l Funding is needed from the state and federal government to kick-start new programs and augment existing ones.

l One example is the installation of pipelines in the Arch Hurley district to prevent the loss of water to evaporation, several farmers said.
l Full staffing of the Office of Engineer’s District 7 office in Cimarron which covers Quay County. Increased staffing would allow the office to efficiently oversee and monitor the use of water that flows into Quay County from the Canadian River Basin, said Franklin McCasland, manager of Arch Hurley.

Several attendees also asked that measuring devices be installed on the Canadian River.

l Examine the counties to see if the Northeast Region should be composed of different counties because their water needs and uses are different, said state Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari.

l Invasive species management, such salt water cedars which encroach on water supplies. Brush control is another avenue that conserves water, said rancher Tom Sidwell.

l More plans for water reuse and water treatment plants that do not rely on evaporative methods.

l Other suggestions included conservation education for each of the different kinds of water users, runoff capture, funding for the New Mexico State University Science Center on drought resistant crops, watershed restoration and updating of existing infrastructure.

Having a plan and stragedy that addresses water use and water shortages assists municipalities in getting funds for future projects, said Richard Primrose, Quay County Manager.

This has been borne out by recent awards of federal stimulus package funds for Tucumcari and Logan, Primrose said.