Dairy farmers express water concerns

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Concerned their water rights would be bled dry, dairy farmers requested the Clovis City Commission protest water rights consolidation efforts by New Mexico American Water Co.

The commission voted unanimously for a conditional protest to the utility’s request to the Office of the State Engineer. The company wants to be allowed to exceed water rights on individual wells, under the condition it doesn’t exceed the combined amounts of all the water rights it owns.

New Mexico American Vice President and Manager Kathy Wright said the company wants to be allowed to be more efficient in obtaining water for its customers.

“Our intent is not to impair anyone’s wells,” Wright said. “We have wells we could pump all day long (and not exceed water rights). We have other wells that could produce more, but they’re restricted in the water rights.”

A group of dairy owners, led by Walter Bradley of Dairy Farmers of America and Portales dairy owner Alva Carter, said the permit process in place protects the water rights of neighbors.

“If you stick a well in the artery,” Carter said, showing his outstretched arm, “there would be no blood from the veins.”

Carter added the city wouldn’t serve its citizens if it allowed a for-profit company to change the rules to the detriment of out-of-city residents whose water is solely provided by a well.

Commissioner Fred Van Soelen concurred.

“The more you take,,” Van Soelen said, “the more cost you’ll incur on a smaller well.”

Wright said the company has no interest in bleeding a well dry because that would become a wasted investment.

The protest was approved with the condition it could be pulled if the company could give hydrological reports that consolidation wouldn’t hurt neighboring wells.

Thursday’s 3 1/2-hour commission meeting also included a study session on priorities for the 2009 state Legislature, giving commissioners an opportunity to talk about their top five priorities for capital outlay.

Commissioner Robert Sandoval asked if putting five items on the list, just to put five items on the list, was detrimental to the most important projects — notably the Hull Street overpass, closed since the end of July with a possible price tag from $4 million (repair) to $10 million (replacement).

“I think we all agree Hull Street and wastewater should be our top two,” Sandoval said, with wellness center improvements as a debatable No. 3.

Van Soelen said commissioners also needed a change in approach. In the past, he said he’s seen road projects go largely ignored because a legislator message of “I helped build this” resonates with constituents more than, “I helped repave this.”

Robyne Baubien, director of Clovis MainStreet, said that in the past, being on the city’s top priorities helped in later grant applications.