Commission passes resolution blasting state water decision

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Curry County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing a recent decision by the state to grant emergency combined water rights to New Mexico American Water.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Discontent is swirling around an emergency authorization granted to New Mexico American Water after it said it couldn’t meet the area’s water needs in 60 days.

Curry County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday, opposing a recent decision by the state to grant emergency combined water rights to NMAW.

As part of the resolution, the commission also withdrew its participation from the Clovis Water Users Working Group, a committee created by New Mexico Amercian Water to consider the request and gather input from the local area.

New Mexico American Water, the water provider for the city of Clovis, filed the emergency application in July 2008, anticipating possible water shortages in the Clovis area as a result of the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in eastern New Mexico.

In March NMAW requested the authorization be granted under expedited emergency status.

In an affidavit sent to the state engineer, NMAW General Manager Kathy Wright said if not authorized to combine 7,103 acre-feet per year in water rights, NMAW would not be able to provide a, “reliable fully supply of water to Clovis residents” past May 10, according to a press release from the state engineer’s office.

Resident Vincent DeMaio told commissioners projections made by NMAW were an attempt to circumvent normal application procedure.

“This act represents the very worst of heavy handed scare tactics we’ve seen,” he said. “It was a way to secure water rights without actually paying for them … It’s either exaggerated or (they’re) incompetent (for inaction before things got drastic).”

Each of the 59 wells that supplies Clovis has a certain amount of water rights, but NMAW officials say some can no longer pump the full amount, while others have more capacity but are limited by water rights assigned to them.

“This authorization will threaten many industries in the region such as dairy, crop production agriculture and Southwest Cheese, and could also affect the water supplies of the residents in Portales, by allowing NMAW to pump excess amounts of water from the most challenged portions of the local aquifer,” Commissioner Wendell Bostwick read from the resolution.

NMAW was not represented at the commission meeting Tuesday.

When contacted for response, Evan Jacobs, a spokesman for NMAW said it is now taking more than 60 wells to produce the same amount of water that 30 wells were able to pump 10 years ago. The combined rights authorization was necessary and not a threat to area water, he said.

“The best scientific data available says that there is not going to be interference with neighbor water rights,” Jacobs said.

“On hot summer days we see about twice the water usage as normal in Clovis. Given the continued depletion of (the Ogallala Aquifer) we are very concerned about being able to meet those peek demands this summer.”

It is estimated 95 percent of the water used in Curry County is used by agriculture, Jacobs said, though firm data is not available because wells in the county are not metered.

NMAW filed a letter March 12 asking for emergency rights, unbeknownst to the Clovis Water Users Working Group, Bostwick said.

The group, which believed it was working toward a consensus on the issue before a decision was made, was not even made aware of the emergency request at its March 23 meeting, he said.

“It’s a violation of what I intended (the role of the CWUWG to be),” Bostwick said. “I just don’t think they’ve been upfront with us.”

Jacobs said the group was co-founded with the City of Clovis in September to discuss all area water issues and has a diverse membership which includes participants from Clovis, Cannon Air Force Base , the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce and numerous others.

Curry County appears to have misinterpreted the intent behind the group’s existence, Jacobs said.

“That’s unfortunate and I apologize or feel badly if they got that interpretation for it,” he said. “It’s a good forum to discuss all issues about water. I sincerely hope that we can continue the discussion with Curry County and others about the state of our resources.”

Bostwick said he attended more than a half dozen meetings with the group, and he and other group members were operating under the belief they would mutually decide on a resolution before action was taken, which was why the emergency request was a shock.

Bostwick said he wanted all comments he made during his time with the group stricken from the CWUWG’s records and supported the county’s full withdrawal from the group.

“It’s my opinion that they are the ones that betrayed the trust that was put on the table to start with,” he said.

Ranchvale farmer Doug Reed told the commission he and other area ranchers who belonged to the group had also withdrawn their participation, for the same reasons cited by Bostwick.

Commission Chairman Bobby Sandoval asked for, and was granted, wording in the resolution that would allow the county to renew its role with the group should it see fit.