Water talks reach boiling point

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico sjohnson@cnjonline.com

State Engineer John D’Antonio says a temporary emergency permit granted to New Mexico American Water is merely a stop gap to prevent a water shortage this summer.

During the one-year period, the water utility will be closely monitored and required to report its pumping activity, D’Antonio said during a press conference Friday at the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce.

D’Antonio said if any problems arise, he has jurisdiction to revoke the authorization.

The authorization was intended to be a temporary solution while a request for permanent combined rights filed last June goes through a review process, he said.

Monday, D’Antonio’s office announced it was granting the water utility’s request for expedited emergency authorization to combine water rights. D’Antonio said the utility’s request was approved because the company said it may not be able to meet the city’s water needs after May 10.

The authorization allows NMAW to increase pumping at wells that were limited but have higher capability than other wells is using.2010-04-092010-04-09

The utility says it says can’t produce enough to meet community needs.

D’Antonio encouraged the community and the utility to return to the table to discuss solutions for the difficulties the company is facing in providing water.

Opponents have argued the decision allows NMAW to pull more water from the aquifer shared by the region and will affect others’ water levels.

They also say NMAW invented the emergency situation to gain free water rights and did it in an underhanded way, not notifying anyone it had requested the expedited authorization.

Tuesday, the Curry County Commission adopted a resolution opposing the authorization and withdrew its representation from an area working group on water issues.

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said he and other members felt the utility bypassed the working group and violated its trust when it submitted its most recent emergency request.

Utility General Manager Kathy Wright said there was no intent to bypass the group.

“In hindsight, we could have been more specific in the March 23 (group) meeting, but we did discuss that we were working with the state engineer … and that we expected a decision in a few weeks. It was by no means meant to be a surprise.”

D’Antonio said, “From my perspective they (NMAW) didn’t do anything wrong … We’ve determined that it’s not going to cause any impairment for (others).”

Wright told the group NMAW does not intend to use the authorized rights unless a situation is reached where the community’s needs can’t be met by the current pumping schedule.

“It’s not our intent to impair anyone,” she said.

City Commissioner Randy Crowder asked D’Antonio to reconsider the authorization.

“I think there’s a great deal of information your office doesn’t have,” he said.

State Sen. Clint Harden and D’Antonio reiterated the community needed to return to the discussion table with the utility.

Harden said they should start a new group to work on the issue.

Dairyman Wayne Palla spoke, suggested they move past discussion groups and start making progress.

“We have grouped this thing to death. How many more groups do we need?” he asked.

Palla suggested NMAW open its doors to offers from local landowners willing to lease them water rights.

Crowder and several members of the audience agreed to participate in a new working group to discuss the issues and try to come up with an alternative to NMAW’s request for combined rights.