By Darrell Todd Maurina
Responding to drought conditions that have reached emergency levels in some parts of New Mexico, an interim committee of the State Legislature is holding two days of meetings in Clovis to discuss water supply concerns.
Tuesday’s first session of the Water and Natural Resources Committee met at Clovis Community College and focused on proposed rules by the state engineer’s office to curb water usage, a report by the New Mexico Drought Task Force, and a report on removal of salt cedar trees from state waterways. Today’s meeting will convene at 9 a.m. with a report on the Ute Pipeline Project affecting Clovis and surrounding communities.
While the salt cedar removal project mostly affects other areas of the state, Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said Fort Sumner and Tucumcari could be among the communities to benefit. Salt cedar trees use large amounts of water and state officials say killing the trees will help improve water flow in area rivers.
“My dad tells the story of Frio Draw when there was a spring and the kids used to have picnics there,” Harden said. “I wonder if we get rid of the salt cedar and the Russian olive trees, we will get back what we had in the 20s and 30s.”
Hardin said Lake Sumner in Fort Sumner, Conchas Lake in San Miguel County, and Ute Lake in Logan are all about an hour from the Clovis area and often attract Clovis residents.
“With those reservoirs full, it would have a big impact on recreational activities for Clovis,” Harden said.
Debbie Hughes, director of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, told the committee that getting rid of salt cedars is among her organization’s highest priorities.
Harden asked Hughes how much it would cost to get rid of the salt cedars and how much damage the trees are doing to the state’s water supply.
Hughes said the removal cost depends on the method used, and that state officials are using everything from herbicides dropped by helicopter to chain saws and even foraging goats.
“Nobody really knows exactly how much water these trees use, but if they’re dead, they aren’t using any water,” Hughes said. “We pulled trees out by the roots, and when we did that, the roots were just dripping with moisture. It’s just amazing how much water these salt cedars take up.”
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she’s glad she’s been a voting or advisory member of the Water and Natural Resources Committee ever since she was first elected to the Legislature 10 years ago.
“Water is vital to our economy,” Crook said. “One of the things we have learned is this comes down to rural versus urban. The (committee) chair has said, ‘We need growth and development, but do we have the water to sustain it?’”