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Water commission starts use of PV wells

Hannah Riseley-White of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, seen during a June 2019 meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Severe drought conditions in most of New Mexico and the possibility of a dry winter has led the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to decide to start pumping water from its two augmentation wells in the Pecos Valley to meet the requirements of legal agreements.

Water from the Seven Rivers well flows into the Brantley Dam Reservoir near Carlsbad. (Submitted Photo)

“Given current reservoir storage levels and climate forecasts for the coming months, water supply is expected to be very limited next year for CID (Carlsbad Irrigation District), the Pecos Basin and New Mexico as a whole,” said Hannah Riseley-White, deputy director of the Interstate Stream Commission and Pecos Basin manager.

The commission indicated in a news release that 84% of the state is experiencing severe drought and that La Niña weather patterns are expected to bring relatively little precipitation from now until April. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint effort of several government and academic research groups, indicates that all of southeastern New Mexico is experiencing D2, severe drought, to D4, exceptional drought.

Pumping from the wells in Seven Rivers near the Brantley Dam Reservoir and in Lake Arthur is not without controversy.

In the past, a few farmers in the Valley area attending public meetings have said that pumping in 2011 and 2013 resulted in little or no water available at the wells on their property. They also acknowledged that increased water demand by residences in the area also affected water levels.

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“We have not heard protests,” said Kristina M. Eckhart, acting public information officer for the Interstate Stream Commission. “We are working with area legislators, most notably Rep. (Candy Spence) Ezzell, and neighbors in the Lake Arthur area to collect additional groundwater level data and will continue to monitor aquifer levels there, as well as continue our ongoing monitoring activities in the Seven Rivers area.”

Eckhart added that data will be available on the commission website and that online public meetings are planned for Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. and Nov. 23 at 5 p.m. to inform and update people. Additional information about accessing those meetings is due to be announced next week.

The commission indicated that water deliveries from Seven Rivers already have begun, with the water being sent to the Brantley Reservoir. Sometime this week or next, the valve at the Lake Arthur well also will be opened with water allowed to flow for a while before any pumping occurs.

Riseley-White added the commission plans to request to pump in 2021 and 2022, as well, in case the need exists in future years.

The pumping at the augmentation wells is needed to ensure that the Carlsbad Irrigation District receives the water delivery assured by the 2003 Pecos Settlement Agreement.

That agreement was reached by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Carlsbad Irrigation District, the local Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District and the Interstate Stream Commission and its parent organization, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. The agreement is intended to help all parties manage their own water needs while also ensuring that Texas receives a certain amount of water from the Pecos River, as required by the 1948 Pecos River Compact and court-ordered amendments.

New Mexico currently has delivery credits with Texas, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, director of the Interstate Stream Commission. But the 2003 settlement agreement requires the commission to augment water supplies available at reservoirs for the Carlsbad Irrigation District if it is determined at the end of an irrigation season that the water levels in March of the following year — in this case, 2021 — might not meet the 50,000 acre-feet minimum.

If the Carlsbad Irrigation District does not have the 50,000 acre-feet available to it, it can make a priority call. When a priority call is made, all other Pecos River water users with junior water rights must stop using their wells until the Carlsbad district has received all of its water.

Aron Balok, superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District, said the district is working with the commission to ensure that meters on the wells are functioning properly and to identify additional locations for monitoring wells to measure the effects of pumping on aquifer levels.

While the parties to the 2003 settlement continue to have disputes on water rights and usage, the ISC said that the legal arrangement has been successful in getting the needed water to Texas.

“The settlement has proven to be New Mexico’s strongest tool in support of ongoing compliance with the 1948 Pecos River Compact and 1988 U.S. Supreme Court’s Amended Decree,” said Schmidt-Petersen.

According to the commission, the 2003 settlement has enabled the state to deliver 75,000 acre-feet of state-owned water to the state line and reduced depletion of water from the Pecos River. It also has allowed the Carlsbad Irrigation District to divert some of the state-owned water it has received to some CID members, as has happened during the past four irrigation seasons.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.