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State nearing Pecos Valley pumping goals

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Commission official says Carlsbad Irrigation District still likely to have water shortfall

Even with pumping from its wellfields in southeastern New Mexico, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission thinks the Carlsbad Irrigation District will have significantly less than 50,000 acre-feet of water available for the 2021 irrigation season, a state official said.

Hannah Riseley-White, deputy director of the commission and the Pecos River Basin bureau chief, gave an update Friday about the use of the wellfields at Seven Rivers near Brantley Reservoir and at Lake Arthur.

She said almost 6,000 acre-feet of water has been delivered from the two wellfields to Brantley since October.

“Our goal at that time was to get somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 acre-feet to Brantley Reservoir by March 1,” she said. “We are well on our way to meet that target.”

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She predicted that about 9,000 to 10,000 acre-feet would be delivered by March 1.

Ten wells are being pumped at Seven Rivers and have been since Oct. 29. Those wells are now providing about 91 acre-feet of water a day to Brantley.

The Lake Arthur wells are not being pumped, but valves opened on four wells there starting on Nov. 6. Artesian pressure is being utilized to allow water to flow to Brantley. About 17 acre-feet of water each day is being produced.

She said water levels are being monitored by well owners in the Lake Arthur area as well as by the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District. No complaints have been received this year about the pumping by well owners or agricultural producers in the area, Riseley-White said by email after the meeting. In prior public meetings, some Pecos Valley residents did voice concerns about lack of water availability for them if pumping occurs.

“This pumping exercise is a good opportunity for us to collect a bunch of additional data — water level and water quality data — to build a better understanding of the aquifer in that area,” she said.

Water quality and water levels are also being monitored for the Seven Rivers area.

The reason behind the pumping is more than an exercise, however.

It is required by a 2003 legal settlement among various New Mexico water agencies. That agreement requires the state to pump to augment water available to the Carlsbad Irrigation District if data indicates that it will not have at least 50,000 acre-feet available for irrigation by March of each year.

Even with this year’s pumping, the irrigation district probably will fall short 15,000 to 20,000 acre-feet of the 50,000 goal.

“The 2003 Pecos Settlement Agreement settlement didn’t commit the state to ensure that those targets are met,” said Riseley-White. “It simply committed the state to do as much as possible to try to meet those targets.”

Riseley-White said the predicted shortfall is due to “dire” drought conditions throughout New Mexico and especially in southeastern New Mexico for the first part of 2021. Information from the U.S. Drought Monitor and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects below average precipitation coupled with high temperatures, which will increase need for water and cause evaporation in reservoirs. March through July riverflow below the Santa Rosa Reservoir is also predicted at 16% lower than average, she said.

In addition to trying to ensure the district has adequate water supplies for agricultural users in the area, the 2003 settlement is intended to prevent a priority call by Carlsbad Irrigation District, as has occurred sometimes in the past, including in 2013.

Riseley-White said the pumping at the southeastern New Mexico wellfields costs about $2 million a year and the Interstate Stream Commission is asking the 2021 Legislature to provide a special appropriation of that amount for future pumping.

She also reiterated her opinion that the 2003 legal settlement is a good tool to ensure the state meets the requirements of the 1948 Pecos River Compact. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas in a 1974 lawsuit about the compact, finding that New Mexico under-delivered water. That decision cost New Mexico about $130 million, Riseley-White said, including fines as well as the creation of wells and the purchasing of water rights to prevent future under-deliveries.

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.