Workshop searches for solution

Kevin Wilson

People from different walks of life are meeting in Portales for one common goal — to slow the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer.
The workshop, “Land Uses and their Effects on the Ogallala Aquifer,” is in its second day at the Memorial Building.
Today’s meetings start at 8:15 a.m. and continue until noon.
According to a release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the search for solutions to the aquifer’s declining water level gained momentum when Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced the High Plains Aquifer Hydrogeologic Characterization Mapping, Modeling and Monitoring Act.
The act is part of a concerted effort to save the aquifer, which is declining despite recent advances in irrigation equipment.
For example, the Office of the State Engineer estimates the Ogallala is only recharging water in the region at one-fourth of the rate that the aquifer is being drained.
Between “fun facts” and episodes of “consumption use Jeopardy,” presenters delved into what conservation options exist, along with respective costs and benefits (or consequences) of each.
Presentations at the Memorial Building ranged from Power Point files to impromptu speeches. Lee Tillman, executive director for the Eastern Plains Council of Governments, addressed the crowd on conservation’s effects on local governments, and claimed he could have spoken from five minutes to five hours, depending on how much was needed.
Tillman mixed humor with a message of support for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, a proposed pipeline that would run from Ute Lake near Logan in Quay County to Portales.
Tillman estimated the costs for the pipeline at $250 million, but said that cost was a “drop in the bucket” compared to the statewide problems on the horizon.
“The biggest misconception is that we don’t have a long-term problem, that somehow everything’s going to work out fine,” Tillman said. “The problem is inescapable from a long-term standpoint.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, but we need to work towards a renewable standpoint.”
The crowd was a mix of hydrologists, economists, farmers and government representatives. The main concern from the farming standpoint is simple — to find a balance between investing in conservation and trying to keep farming profitable.
“The biggest obstacle would be the return on investment,” said Joe Whitehead, the district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conversation Service in Portales. “If you can make the money on your crop, you’d save water but you don’t make a living.”
“That’s where government programs could come in and help.”
During his presentation, Whitehead gave various options for farmers, from drilling more wells to changing crops. For the most part, though, Whitehead said farmers have been responsible over the years.
“Farmers are conservative,” Whitehead said. “There’s no doubt about it.”