By Kevin Wilson
TUCUMCARI — Public welfare and future water projections took center stage this week at the Tucumcari Convention Center, as the Northeast New Mexico Regional Water Plan’s public steering committee met throughout Monday afternoon.
The committee, made up of representatives of cities and counties throughout eastern New Mexico, is in the process of building a statement of public welfare for the plan.
In 1987, the state Legislature gave the state engineer authority to deny an application for a new water right or a water right transfer if it is contrary to the conservation of water or if it is detrimental to the public welfare of the state.
However, the Legislature did not give a definition for public welfare, and no universal definition has been tested in court. Six of the people present at Monday’s meeting will work together on defining public welfare in a way that serves participating entities in Northeast New Mexico, one of the state’s 16 water planning regions.
The plan is to present public welfare as part of the larger Northeast New Mexico Water Plan, which is tentatively scheduled to be drafted in the summer.
The group looked at other definitions of public welfare, then broke up into its five participating counties to determine specific needs.
The five counties are Harding, Union, Quay, Roosevelt and Curry.
“The whole (Quay County) group liked the Southwest New Mexico plan,” Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose said, “except we wanted to also address surface water and water transfers.”
Quay County entities valued surface water due to the Ute Lake Reservoir. The reservoir accounts for nearly all of the evaporation-related water loss over the last 30 years. Evaporation counts for 44 percent of all water usage in Quay County, according to publications made available by the water planning region.
Irrigated agriculture makes up the region’s biggest amount of water usage, but committee members also see more water usage being dedicated to livestock with dairies supplying cheese plants inside the region — Clovis — and outside the region — Dalhart, Texas.
The committee includes Primrose, Kendyl Monroe of Union County, Ute Water Project Manager Scott Verhines, Karen Bray of Des Moines and Pete Callahan and Joe Culberton of Harding County.
The committee’s definition of public welfare might not be the final version, but hydrogeologist Amy Ewing said it’s a valuable resource for the public to see at least a sample of a local public welfare definition.
“The point of these planning meetings is to have public input,” said Ewing, who works with environmental science and engineering consulting firm Daniel B. Stephens & Associates. “It’s better to have it than not have it.”
The committee will make information available in a series of public meetings in April. The first meeting is planned for April 3 in Portales, with meetings in Tucumcari April 4 and Clayton April 5. A meeting in Mosquero will be held on either April 4 or April 5.
The next committee meeting will be either May 9 or May 15 in Tucumcari.