State engineer puts halt to ag wells

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Citing limited groundwater supply in the area, the Office of the State Engineer has issued an order to close the Ogallala Aquifer to new applications for agricultural wells.

The issue drew discussion during a Clovis City Commission meeting Thursday lasting just 15 minutes, with all action items unanimously approved on the commission’s consent agenda.

A press release from the state engineer said the order was issued because studies indicate large portions of the region’s aquifer — also called the High Plains Aquifer — could become unsaturated within 40 years.

“These kind of things don’t happen,” Crowder said, “unless the water issues are critical.”

Irrigated agriculture is the greatest user of water in Curry and Roosevelt counties. State Engineer John D’Antonio said it accounts for more than 90 percent of water use.

According to D’Antonio, 318,844 of the total 349,258 acre feet of water used in 2005 in both counties was through irrigated agriculture.

D’Antonio wants to make sure those users, and domestic users, still have water when 2050 comes around.

“It protects all the existing water right owners down there; it really preserves the aquifer,” D’Antonio said. “One of the keys is preserving the aquifer until the Ute pipeline is built.”

The Ute Water Project was also discussed during the meeting.

A pipeline, which would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to member entities, including Clovis and Portales, has yet to enter the construction stages and is 10 to 12 years away, authority members said.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said a $1 million appropriation was recently approved by President Barack Obama. She said the money will be used to purchase land around the location of an intake to distribute water to the future pipeline.

“This is really a reality,” Brumfield said of the water situation, and the need for the pipeline. “This is a necessity, and I think our delegation sees this. They’re all on board.”

The state order does not apply to permits for domestic wells, D’Antonio said. A domestic well, with water used primarily for drinking and sanitation, is limited to one acre-foot per year — 325,851 gallons.

Wells drilled for irrigation are heavier users, D’Antonio said, with water use ranging from 1-2 acre feet per acre of land irrigated.

Water rights holders can still file applications for well location changes, well replacements and supplemental wells provided statutory requirements are met.

D’Antonio said the office is planning to hold workshops and workgroups with stakeholders, both in Clovis and Portales, and will hold public meetings next year to present draft guidelines for water right applications.