Ag well application closure receives mixed reactions from local farmers

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

Local members of the agriculture industry have mixed reactions to the recent closure of the High Plains aquifer to new appropriations of water.

Last week, the Office of the State Engineer announced that it would no longer allow permits for agricultural, commercial, municipal or industrial wells that would pump water not already being taken from the aquifer. However, according to a news release from the office, the move didn’t affect citizens’ ability to get permits for smaller amounts of water for domestic, livestock and temporary construction uses.

Also, State Engineer John D’Antonio said water could be still be transferred from one use to another within the local “critical management area.” The rules for getting permits for well location changes, replacement wells and supplemental wells remain unaltered as well.

D’Antonio said the order is actually a set of guidelines for his water rights staff who are looking at requests for permits. He plans to hold working meetings with stakeholders before finalizing the order.

Walter Bradley, government and business affairs director for Dairy Farmers of America in Clovis, said he didn’t think the order would affect anything for the dairy industry because the guidelines were already unofficially in operation.

“For all practical, real-world matters, we haven’t been able to drill new appropriations for several years,” he said.

Applicants for new well permits already had to prove their water use won’t hinder the water use of people already pumping, and D’Antonio said any additional withdraws from the aquifer would do so. Therefore, the protection the order offers for the aquifer has been in place, but the order makes the procedure concrete.

For the farming business, Portales-area farmer Wayne Baker said the aquifer probably shouldn’t have any new wells because of the water shortage. However, he would prefer wells to be considered on a case-by-case basis so potential owners could prove beneficial use and ample water in their area. He also thought the effectiveness of the order was questionable.

“We’re just down to the bottom end of the aquifer, and once it gets non-economical for people to farm, well, they’ll quit,” Baker said.

Matt Rush, Roosevelt County farmer and president of the Roosevelt County Farm and Livestock Bureau, was less happy with the order.

“I understand the importance of water, and I understand we’re in an area where water is a valuable commodity,” Rush said.

However, he said, until Texas takes steps to conserve the water it’s pumping from the same aquifer, New Mexico efforts will have a minimal effect.

Rush said the closure of the basin will “absolutely” hurt the local agriculture industry.

“Anytime the government steps in and shuts down part of our production or our means of production, it’s going to hurt agriculture, and it’s also going to hurt the economy,” he said.

Most agriculture producers are already using water conservation methods, Rush said.