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Some impacts of rains unknown for water district

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Aron Balok, superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District, speaks to a group in July 2015. (Daily Record File Photo)

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Local water district officials say that some good aspects of the heavy rains in New Mexico and this area of the state in recent weeks include increased water storage at area reservoirs, the expected end to pumping at nearby augmentation wells and improvement in Pecos Valley aquifer levels.

Whether the rainfall amounts will mean that the Carlsbad Irrigation District will rescind its earlier “priority call” for Pecos River water remains to be seen, with that matter still before the Office of the State Engineer.

“I spoke with Frank Scott with the ISC (New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission), and it was his intention to have the pump shut off by the end of yesterday, so the pump at Seven Rivers should be sitting idle as we speak right now,” said Aron Balok, superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District during the district’s Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday.

The directors offered a chorus of “good” in response to his remark.

Some farmers and dairies in the Chaves County area have expressed concern in the past that pumping affects how much water they have available at wells for their operations, especially during a drought.

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Officials with the Interstate Stream Commission said that they could not comment by press time.

The ISC augmentation wells at Lake Arthur and Seven Rivers near Brantley Dam provide supplemental water to the Carlsbad Irrigation District when Pecos River water levels are low. That is to ensure that legal requirements contained in the 2003 Pecos Settlement Agreement are met. One of the requirements is that the Carlsbad district have at least 50,000 acre feet of water available at Brantley Dam for its use each year.

State officials have said the agreement has been an important tool to meet competing needs within the state as it also works to comply with a federal court ruling requiring it to deliver enough water each year to Texas. Right now, the state has a surplus regarding its water deliveries to Texas.

In January, the ISC deputy director said that the augmentation wells had provided 6,000 acre feet to Brantley Dam and were projected to have at least 9,000 acre feet delivered by March. Even with that amount at that time, the ISC was predicting then that Carlsbad would be short about 15,000 acre feet of the 50,000 acre feet goal.

Because of that situation, on March 19, the Carlsbad Irrigation District Board of Directors passed a resolution sent to the State Engineer asking that the state determine Pecos River water usage by priority.

How a decision to grant the priority call would shake out legally is unknown. Balok has said that the Pecos Valley district would fight any efforts to restrict water usage by its members.

Now, with more rain still expected to come to this area during the monsoon season and the water still flowing from watersheds due to recent rains, the amount available to the CID should be “pretty stinkin’ close” to the 50,000 acre feet goal, as Pecos Valley district board member Stuart Joy put it.

Chaves County has received about 9.16 inches of rain and hail since May 30, when the first major storm hit the area, according to the the average of precipitation levels reported by county volunteers working with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. The highest amount reported by a volunteer was 14.2 inches, while the lowest amount was 4.47 inches.

Brantley Dam near Carlsbad now has 43,826 acre feet of water, up from about 37,000 acre feet on July 7, according to data posted on the Interstate Stream Commission website. According to Pecos Valley district lawyer A.J. Olsen, the current storage at area reservoirs is at 62,008 acre feet when also including the Santa Rosa and Ft. Sumner reservoirs.

An acre foot is the amount of water than can cover 1 acre of land with 1 foot of water. It is equal to about 325,900 gallons.

The Conservancy District directors also said that the rains have “recharged” the area aquifer, which provides groundwater for the region. For the first six months of 2021, the aquifer levels were lower than or equal to the levels measured in 1970, a period of severe drought for the area, according to information posted on the Conservancy District website.

While the rains have improved the Pecos Valley water situation, the most recent map produced on July 8 by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that most of New Mexico and all of Chaves County remained in moderate to severe drought.

The director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, has told state legislators that the state’s drought conditions have been getting worse for decades and that 2021 has experienced the most severe drought in 20 years. He and others are asking legislators and state officials to come up with plans on how to manage water shortages and share water across the state during droughts.

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.