Water woes ongoing legacy

We’ve all been reminded this summer that we live in a very arid climate where water is a precious commodity.

Watching my lawn toast in the sun this year has been hard. Now that we’ve hit mandatory watering restrictions and even emergency orders not to water lawns or wash cars, I’ve begun picturing, in my mind, my front yard in gravel, yuccas and pampas grass. The thought of less mowing is appealing too.

Water worries across the eastern plains have bubbled to the top the last few weeks but they’re nothing new. In an oral history my grandmother recorded before she died, she says that when her folks first came to New Mexico, around 1920, they got off the train at Clovis and her dad then spent some time driving the area looking for a place to buy. His biggest concern was finding a place with shallow water so a well could be drilled inexpensively. They landed in the Arch community where, at that time, the water was pretty shallow.

Earlier settlers tried dry land farming with mixed results. But even those sod busters needed water for stock and vegetable gardens and they went to great lengths to get it. A book by Annie King Greaves “Six Miles to the Windmill,” described how as homesteaders in the Elida area she and her husband had hauled water by wagon and team from a windmill six miles away until they could afford their own well.

Coming up with the money to drill that well pretty nearly bankrupted the family and ultimately turned her husband back toward the newspaper business he had left for the fortunes of homesteading.

Early day pictures of Portales and Clovis show lots of windmills right downtown and an early test well to see if irrigated farming would be feasible was drilled right on the square in Portales.

An early attempt at operating an irrigation district in the Portales valley 100 years ago proved that good wells could be put in but getting everyone to work together where water was concerned wasn’t that simple. If several farmers were sharing a ditch it turned out it was really hard to watch your crops and livelihood wilt in the summer sun while the neighbor quenched his thirst.

Ultimately that attempt at an irrigation district failed but many places in the arid southwest have operated irrigation cooperatives for centuries. Water battles, both physical and legal have persisted for generations out here. As California was undergoing water struggles as it was being settled, Mark Twain was credited with penning the phrase that most accurately described the West and water for the last 150 years: “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over.”

Lots of governmental authorities are realizing just how true those words are as they’ve been forced to restrict the flow of their neighbor’s water.

Maybe the solution to our current water woes is a tall glass of whiskey as we sit on our porch and contemplate the placement of gravel and yuccas.