Water commission considers conservation

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

The Ute Reservoir Water Commission plans to consider different approaches to conserving water in droughts to keep Ute Lake’s water level from dropping to the point communities are no longer allowed to withdraw water.

After discussing the value of planning for droughts at their meeting Thursday in Portales, commissioners asked engineers to present different scenarios of how much to conserve and when to begin saving water.

Mark Murphy, member of the Ute Lake Reservoir Advisory Group and an Interstate Stream Commission employee, said the advisory group had been discussing recreational use of the lake.

“The main concern being recreational use of the reservoir is affected in large part by the level of the lake,” he said.

Murphy said protecting water levels in case of a drought was beneficial to all entities.

He suggested the commission adopt a management strategy in which municipalities switched from using surface water to pumping groundwater when a drought reached a yet-to-be-determined level.

Communities without wells could buy groundwater from those that do, Murphy said.

Greg B. Gates, senior water resources engineer with CH2M Hill, said drought management allows planners to think ahead so they don’t drain the reservoir to the minimum level, at which no one can take more water out of the lake.

If users began withdrawing less water early, the lake would still have water available in later years.

To establish such a plan, Gates said, commissioners need to determine how to define a drought for their purposes, how much to decrease use and when to start and stop conserving.

In a drought, Gates continued, groundwater is a component of providing for water needs. But communities need to do other things as well so they can maintain groundwater.

He also said educating the public was important.

“People need to know way in advance of a drought what they need to be doing and why,” Gates said.

Also, he said the plan needs to be adaptable in case something happens beyond what historical data suggests would occur.

Curry County representative Wendell Bostwick said commissioners would need a lot of information to make a good decision. Grady representative Junior Shafer expressed confidence in the commission.

“We live in a drought world,” he said.

With help from Gates and GC Engineering Program Manager Scott Verhines, and some common sense, Shafer continued, commissioners could come up with a plan.

In other business, the commission heard that the Eastern Plains Council of Governments wanted to be paid to facilitate meetings and mail agendas, which are currently free services.

Commissioners decided to revisit the issue later.