State officials address residents’ water concerns

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

PORTALES — The Northeast New Mexico water region has two issues to balance — a growing population and a shrinking base of local water to satisfy that population, state officials said at a Tuesday night meeting.

Representatives from the Interstate Stream Commission and the Office of the State Engineer addressed a mix of citizens and elected officials on those concerns and others during a regional water planning meeting held at the Memorial Building.

Esteban Lopez, chairman of the ISC, said Tuesday’s meeting was the 13th of 21 public meetings scheduled from April to June. The next meeting is 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Tucumcari Convention Center.

The Northeast region is one of 16 regions involved in the state water plan, first created in 2003 and now under revision. The region includes Union, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Gretel Follingstad, OSE planner, said the region is expected to grow by 12,000 people by 2040, and water demands could lead to a shortfall of about 150,000 acre-feet per year.

An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot, about 326,000 gallons.

Post-presentation questions dealt with how population growth and climate variability would affect water demand, and how conservation and infrastructure could play a role in an adequate supply.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. gave a prepared statement on behalf of his city council, which was holding a meeting across the city. He said the city is looking to the Ute Water Project, recently authorized by President Barack Obama, but said citizen conservation efforts and effluent water projects are helping in the short term for a city that owns its water system.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, chair of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, which is tasked to run the Ute Water Project, said she echoed Ortega’s statements.

“We’ve been busy on the Ute Water Project,” Brumfield said of the effort to pump water from the Ute Reservoir to authority members. “In the meantime, we do not own our water system like the City of Portales does.”

Regarding conservation and infrastructure, citizens at the meeting said efforts should focus on rewarding agriculture for conservation efforts and funding wastewater treatment and effluent water facilities.

Irrigated agriculture accounts for 86 percent of water usage, compared to 3 percent for public and municipal use, according to state information.

Charles Bennett of Portales said a key to conservation efforts could be metering area wells, and said, “We need to all restrict ourselves to the water we have a right to (use).”

Ortega said another focus should be to educate citizens on proper water usage, noting Portales cut its 2006 water usage by 62 million gallons compared to 2005.

Break-out:

Information from meetings will be available from the Office of the State Engineer’s Web site, www.ose.state.nm.us, under the State Water Plan Update Public Outreach 2009 section.