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Water official says local district seeks to deter restrictions

PVACD Superintendent Aron Balok (Daily Record File Photo)

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The Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District continues to negotiate with the Carlsbad Irrigation District and the Office of the State Engineer about water concerns in the area that have arisen as a result of the severe drought in southeastern New Mexico and much of New Mexico.

Aron Balok, superintendent of the PVACD, told members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners on Thursday that the local district wants to deter any decision that would impose state restrictions on water use within the Valley district.

His remarks to commissioners were given to provide an update about a March 19 resolution, or priority call, sent by the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) Board of Directors to the Office of the State Engineer asking that water usage in the area be determined by priority rights.

“The question then becomes, what does that mean to water right holders here in the Valley? And the short answer, and the answer I want you to take away today, is, we don’t know,” Balok said.

Priority calls have occurred in the past, mostly recently in 2013, without the State Engineer ordering any restrictions. The PVACD membership includes about 100,000 individuals, businesses and farms and ranches in Chaves County and Eddy County. Balok said that the “best case scenario” from the PVACD’s viewpoint would be for the State Engineer to refrain again from imposing water usage restrictions in the Valley.

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The CID has made the priority call because extreme drought conditions have resulted in it not having the amount of water available from the Pecos River this year that it is entitled to by legal settlements involving several entities, including the PVACD. Although the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has used its Seven River and Lake Arthur wellfields to pump additional water to the Brantley Dam for the use of the CID, the CID is still short about 20,000 acre feet of the 50,000 acre feet called for by legal agreements.

Balok said that the priority call in this situation is a “complicated hydrological conundrum” because it is not just about determining who has first rights, or senior rights, to Pecos River water. In this case, the question is whether restricting use of Pecos Valley groundwater by PVACD users can make water available to the CID.

In response to a question from a commissioner, Balok said that he thinks that the CID knows that the PVACD cannot make up for the CID acre-feet shortage and that the CID might be seeking money instead.

He said that the PVACD has a “robust legal team” ready to argue its case against restrictions if necessary and also has a “robust water conservation” strategy that has included obtaining water rights within both the CID and the PVACD over several years.

He also said that the Valley district is not in a position to aid CID because the PVACD is also dealing with drought and high usage demands, with the water table down to its lowest point in 50 years.

The good thing about the Pecos Valley aquifer, he said, is that it replenishes quickly once significant rain accumulates.

“We cannot be expected to contribute to the river without inflows,” he said. “That is my position, and right now we don’t have any inflows. As soon as we do, we will recover.”

Office of the State Engineer Public Information Officer Kristina Eckhart has confirmed that the agency is holding private meetings with the PVACD and the CID in attempts to resolve the issues.

“We are in negotiations with the State Engineer, trying to find some solution,” said Gary Walterscheid, president of the CID Board of Directors. He added that the CID has agreed not to discuss the situation while negotiations with the State Engineer are ongoing.

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.