Water issues across the dry Southwest are nothing new, but farmers around Carlsbad, in southeastern New Mexico, say they are fed up over water shortages in the Pecos River, blaming upriver Roswell water users for tapping groundwater sources and depleting water that would have flowed south in the now near-dry Pecos riverbed.

They are so upset that they are calling for a rarely used “priority call” on the Pecos, a request that in effect asks state lawmakers to reinstate a rule that pits Roswell users against Carlsbad farmers, a water war of sorts between neighbors.

Three years of extreme drought has Southwestern water users in a frenzy, especially farmers who depend on irrigation to keep their farms running. For many years now groundwater use in and around Roswell and pumping surface water from the Pecos for irrigation around Carlsbad has been the status quo. But extreme drought conditions are changing what once was a “working arrangement.”

Ronnie Walterscheid, a Carlsbad farmer and rancher, says Carlsbad agricultural producers are fed up and are calling on elected representatives to take action. He addressed a group of fellow farmers and ranchers recently after Carlsbad irrigation officials put ag producers on notice that they would get only about one-tenth of their normal water allocation this year because of surface water shortages in the Carlsbad area.

Saying it is time to fight back, Walterscheid and fellow farmers and ranchers want to return to the days when water in New Mexico was allocated first and foremost to land users who historically have been using the water for the longest period of time. These priority users generally are farmers and ranchers, of course, who have a long history of agricultural production in the area.

Officials at the irrigation district say while it is true New Mexico’s state Constitution allocates water rights to “first in time, first in right,” water allocation practices have long ago diversified. They say officials with New Mexico’s state water authority will never cut water from municipal users in favor of a smaller number of agricultural users.


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Dudley Jones, manager of the district, says he sympathizes with the area’s successful alfalfa farmers because senior water rights date back more than a century. But he is certain the state will not limit groundwater pumping from artesian wells in Roswell, 75 miles to the north, in an effort to irrigate farm fields in the south.

Water in southeastern New Mexico is shared by homeowners and industry, especially oil and gas interests, and by agricultural interests, like dairy operators, farmers and ranchers.