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Water district votes down water rights sales

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Aron Balok, Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District superintendent. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The board of a local water conservancy district has decided not to sell any of its water rights to the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission at this time, although it has extended an agreement it has with the agency.

The Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District Board of Directors voted Tuesday not to offer the agency any water rights the district owns in the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID). That follows the group’s earlier decision to turn down a request from the Interstate Stream Commission to sell district water rights from the Seven Rivers or Lake Arthur area.

Hannah Riseley-White, Pecos River bureau chief for the Interstate Stream Commission, had attended a couple of meetings of the board to ask about the possibility of buying more water rights from the artesian basin, a request she said would still require many approvals if the district were willing.

Riseley-White also met with residents, farmers and businesspeople in Artesia on May 30 to discuss the history of the 2003 Pecos Settlement, which grew out of a 1948 court case dispute and a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about use of water from the Pecos River. The settlement agreement calls for Texas to receive a certain amount of water from the river each year.

Supplemental wells and the purchase of water rights are safeguards to ensure adequate amounts are available to meet the court-mandated amounts.

At the Artesia meeting, several people, including state Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-District 58, expressed concern that adequate water supplies are already a major concern for agricultural interests in Chaves County.

A farmer said that, during one drought period, he had to shut down one well and experienced low-pressure in another after the Interstate Stream Commission drilled the supplemental wells in the Seven Rivers and Lake Arthur regions.

A dairy farmer said he thought that residential users, who are not required to use meters for their domestic wells, are depleting the water available in the area for agribusinesses, which do have to use meters.

In speaking to the PVACD board, Riseley-White said that she had about $530,000 to spend before June 2020 and that she wanted to use the money to purchase additional water rights, suggesting that they could come from the PVACD’s water ownership in the Seven Rivers and Lake Arthur area. She explained that an existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) allows it to have up to 850 acres of water in the PVACD district. She said it has transferred about 500 acres from the district already.

Noting that the board previously decided that it wasn’t interested in selling the district’s Chaves County water rights, PVACD Superintendent Aron Balok then brought up Tuesday whether the district wanted to transfer rights owned in the Carlsbad Irrigation District.

“I would assume that, if we are going to do anything down there, they would have to seek funding for it,” said Balok. “The money she has is not enough.”

Board members agreed that they would not offer to sell CID rights, thinking that it is unlikely that enough funding exists to make an arrangement feasible.

But, Balok said later, the board did agree during its June meeting to a one-year extension of the MOA.

Riseley-White did not respond to questions by press time.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.