This story was first published by the Roswell Daily Record April 13, 2021.
The Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District is reacting to a request by the Carlsbad Irrigation District to have Pecos River water usage decided by state officials on the basis of priority rights by stating that the “water of the Roswell Artesian Basin is once again under siege.”
But the local district also stated it is “confident that it will continue to be successful in protecting the water users of the Roswell Artesian Basin, whether they be municipal, industrial or agricultural.”
The statement released Monday and posted on the PVACD website is very similar to the one issued in 2013 regarding an earlier “priority call” resolution by the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID).
Aron Balok, superintendent of the PVACD, said the 2021 and 2013 statements contain a lot of the same wording because what is occurring now is reminiscent of what happened eight years ago.
The recent statement is in response to a March 19 resolution passed by the CID board of directors asking the Office of the State Engineer to administer Pecos River waters according to priority rights. If the state engineer agrees to do that, PVACD members in Chaves and Eddy counties could be asked to reduce their water usage or to refrain from using their allotted water rights until the CID obtains all of the water it is legally allowed to use for the year.
Balok said that outcome was avoided in 2013. He said rains occurred and PVACD users were not required to curtail usage.
According to the PVACD statement, 110,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the local district could be affected if the state decides to intervene. But the situation impacts all district members who live or work in a large region that stretches from north of Roswell to the Brantley Dam area near Carlsbad.
“It is worth pointing out that it is not PVACD usage, or farm usage, at stake, but everyone within the PVACD,” Balok said.
State Engineer John D’Antonio said that his office is working to schedule separate meetings with the PVACD and the CID, which will be closed sessions.
“We are hopeful that a more practical and implementable solution can be agreed upon by PVACD and CID rather than resorting to a priority call,” he said in a statement forwarded by a public information officer.
Balok said that he could not discuss what legal strategies the district is considering or implementing, but the PVACD statement said it will work to keep the artesian basin’s water for the use of its district members.
“For almost 90 years, the PVACD has fought to keep the Pecos Valley a vibrant area which welcomes everyone as their neighbor,” the statement indicates. “The present threat could pit neighbor against neighbor. The PVACD will not allow this to happen and is confident that it will continue to be successful in protecting the water users of the Roswell Artesian Basin, whether they be municipal, industrial or agricultural.”
In previous public meetings, Balok and district board members have said that they have taken steps to mitigate a priority call. One measure was to purchase property within the CID for its water rights. The district is also engaged in a lawsuit with the CID and other entities about water rights.
“The ongoing drought which has hit the southeast part of New Mexico extremely hard, has reduced the flow of the Pecos River and has caused the aquifer to decline to 1970 levels,” the PVACD statement reads. “Despite the difficulties associated with the drought, the PVACD has worked with the Interstate Stream Commission and the Carlsbad Irrigation District to provide water for irrigation and for Pecos River Compact compliance. The PVACD refuses to surrender to threats of a priority call, and it will fight to protect the waters of the Basin.”
The Pecos River Compact is a legal agreement involving several parties, including the PVACD, and it ensures that the CID will get a certain amount of water each year from the Pecos River and reservoirs. But southeast New Mexico is experiencing an “exceptional drought” that has significantly decreased available water supplies.
According to the CID resolution, even with state efforts to use augmentation wells to supplement water available, the supply available as of March 1 was 23,107 acre-feet short of the amount legally guaranteed to the CID on an annual basis.
The CID resolution stated that the deficit is not expected to be met either by additional pumping of the augmentation wells or significant rain events in 2021.
Several calls and emails were sent to CID officials in recent days, but its board president and the group’s manager chose not to respond.
Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh has asked staff and city councilors to look at what they can do to protect water supplies, especially for agricultural users. The issue is expected to be discussed at an April 26 Roswell City Council Infrastructure Committee meeting.
“We are going to discuss with the staff about having a regular water security report potentially, so that we are always looking into this matter and things won’t be popping up on us,” said Committee Chairman Jacob Roebuck, “so that every year or every other year, we would have some kind of report about what the state of water and water security is for our community.”
Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at [email protected]