CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Curry County Resident Darlene Upham looks at her grandchildren’s handprints in the sidewalk in front of her home. Upham said she lives in fear everyday that her water well will run dry and she will lose her dream home.
When Darlene Upham purchased her south Curry County property in 1982, it was supposed to be her retirement home, but 29 years and two water wells later her dream has turned into nightmare.
A 64-year-old office worker, Upham said she loves her ranch-style home that fronts Curry Road M. With its custom designed barn for her horses, an adjacent cottage, a long porch and small garden for peaceful moments, it is everything she wanted in a home.
Her first sign of trouble came in 2004, when her well went dry, and she had to refinance her home to have a new one dug for $8,000.
Luckily they hit water, but now, seven years later her new well is quickly depleting at a rate of more than three feet a year and — down from more than 40 feet of water to 13 — she’s faced with options that don’t feel much like options at all.
And she knows a day is coming when she will turn the faucet handle and nothing will happen.
“I refinanced my house to have the money (for the first well). I can’t keep doing that,” she said. “I’m not a rich person. I live paycheck to paycheck.”
Upham said if she pays to dig a new well it could end up being a dry hole that costs thousands with no result or she can truck water in to her property and store it in a holding tank, which is a reoccurring cost she can’t afford.
There is also the option of running pipes more than a mile to Brady Avenue where city water lines are located, at an estimated cost of $400,000, or the possibility of making arrangements with neighbors to tie their wells together.
The problem is they’re all in the same dry boat.
Upham’s neighbor Wayne Dendy said he is already pumping sand from his well and has watched neighbor after neighbor drill new wells.
“If you’ve got a well its just barely covering your needs,” he said.
Dendy said he fears what the future holds and worries about property values in his area.
He said he watched his hometown of Petersburg, Texas, go dry and “it broke a lot of good people.”
While all of Curry County is facing imminent water crisis, the southern region, from Brady Avenue to the Roosevelt County line, is already experiencing it, said Mike Barajas, Office of State Engineer supervisor for the Curry County and Causey Lingo basins.
“Unfortunately, due to the geohydrology of the aquifer there are some areas that are already dry. The saturated thickness or the water column that is in that (area) it’s rapidly declining and there’s really not much anyone can do about that,” he said. “It’s just the characteristics of the Ogallala aquifer; it does not recharge.”
Stories like Upham’s are becoming more common in southern Curry, he said, with some having their wells go completely dry, others starting to experience problems and some who are experiencing no issues but will at some point.
“There’s just not a real positive way to spin this,” he said. “Water issues are of a great concern in the desert southwest. The whole state of New Mexico is in a dire situation because a big part of the state relies on surface water and unfortunately there is no surface water around the Clovis area.”
Water issues in the area have been predicted for years. Barajas said in 1989 the state began requiring well permits in the Curry County Basin, about 25 years after local experts advised it should happen.
But now it’s too late. Barajas said even water usage was restricted to just residential use in the area, it wouldn’t change the situation.
He said anyone experiencing water concerns can call him to discuss it and he said those considering a purchase in south Curry County should do their research, including calling him to research the property, before they buy.
Right now the majority of issues are being experienced in Melrose and south of Clovis, but unless a project like the Ute Water Pipeline — which is a plan to pipe water to Eastern New Mexico from the Ute Water Reservoir — is implemented, he said the entire community will eventually have the same problems.
New Mexico American Water is already working hard against challenges in providing water to the Clovis community, said Brian Daly, operations manager.
“That’s what we’re experiencing ourselves with the wells that are in drastic decline,” he said. “I know what she’s going through.”
Daly, who said NMAW owns property in south Curry, said the well was pumping 1,000 gallons a minute about 20 years ago and is now down to less than 100 gallons a minute.
“The majority of wells that are down south; I’m seeing a rapid decline,” he said.
NMAW is very willing to help people in situations like Upham’s but state regulations require that customers pay to connect to their water lines, he said.
“We wouldn’t be good neighbors if we said ‘Well just because you’re out in the county, we can’t do it,’” he said. “(But) there are real costs that have to be covered.”
Because of the cost of solutions, Daly said residents will likely have to band together to change the situation.
Upham said she won’t sell and pass the problem on to someone else, and she said if she waits, she fears it will eventually be worthless.
“I can’t afford to stay and I can’t afford to go,” she said. “If that well goes dry and I’m retired, I’m going to have to abandon it and let the bank take it.”
She plans to start a campaign to write letters to legislators and talk with local leaders in search of answers, but it seems dismal at this point.
Dendy said he hopes he and his neighbors can come together to find a solution soon.
“I would love to go out there and turn on the faucet and have access to a water bill,” he said.
• Office of the State Engineer, supervisor for the Curry County and Causey Lingo basins Mike Barajas (575) 622-6521 extension 121