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Federal bureau to negotiate local water rights

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Representatives of a federal water agency plan to be in Roswell Thursday to negotiate water lease renewals with two entities.

The leases date back to about 2003, said Mary Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but a new bureau policy requires negotiations to occur in public.

The leases that are expected to be renewed involve Hagerman alfalfa and cotton farmer Gilbert Gomez and the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District, which manages water resources in the Roswell-Artesian water basin in Chaves and Eddy counties. The properties that hold the Pecos River water rights are near the Hagerman Canal.

“This is something that is ongoing. These are water rights that we have been leasing for many years,” Carlson said. “The change is in our process and in our policy to become more transparent and to do these negotiations in the public.”

The public session for the water district is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the district offices at 2303 E. Second St. The session with Gomez is due to begin at 1:30 p.m.

Carlson said that the bureau uses the water rights to ensure that the Carlsbad Water Supply Project has the amount of water flow mandated by biological opinions as needed for endangered or threatened species in the area, such as the Pecos bluntnose shiner and the least tern.

PVACD acquired the property when the lease was already in effect, said Aron Balok, district superintendent.

Balok said the Hagerman area water rights help the district build a surplus of water. Meanwhile helping the bureau ensure adequate flows in the Pecos River also helps to guard against a situation in which Pecos River supplies are too low and the Carlsbad Irrigation District makes first demands on the river.

“These are some of the water rights that the district acquired that hopefully will end up being part of our water bank,” he said. “But, in the short term, this is a good opportunity to allow them to provide some offsets for operations for endangered species in the river, and that puts more distance between us and under-delivery to Carlsbad.”

Gomez said that he intends at this point to sign the renewal for either five to 10 years.

Carlson said this is the first public negotiation regarding these Hagerman-area water rights, but that the bureau held a negotiation last month on Pecos River water rights in Fort Sumner that involved the Fort Sumner Irrigation District.

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