“Water is a dilemma in New Mexico,” he said. Everybody needs it, but there isn’t enough to go around, especially not during a drought.

That dilemma actually puts the pressure not on state lawmakers but on irrigation district officials who must be willing to take the heat if they are bold enough to juggle the way water is allocated in the dusty region of the state. During a meeting last month, the water district’s officers were divided on the issue of whether to issue a priority call, the move opposed by three voting members and supported by only two. Instead, the district board issued an ultimatum to state officials, calling for $2.5 million payment from legislators designed to ease local water woes. They warned the state if financial assistance is not forthcoming, they might have no other choice but to enact the priority call, which would undoubtedly lead to “extreme litigation.”

Analysts warn such a move would only spark a war over water between neighbors with an outdated rule that would guarantee water for the minority at the expense of the majority. But Walterscheid and fellow ag producers argue that their heritage operations have been around a great deal longer than newer residents who have filtered into Roswell, and they point out that the priority call is a provision of the state Constitution, meaning “it is the law” whether lawmakers like it or not.

Water in the Pecos originates in the mountains of Northern New Mexico where springs and snow melt filter into the Rio Grande River. But in an arid region like New Mexico and West Texas, water rights have long been a source of conflict. The State of Texas won a Supreme Court ruling in the late 1980s when they charged that upriver users on the Rio Grande were siphoning off water that belonged to them. That ruling forced Roswell water authorities to put meters on wells, institute conservation programs and limit withdrawals of water, a practice that continues today. They argue those safeguards ensure Carlsbad water users that they are not taking any more water from the Pecos than is allocated by federal law.

Aron Balok, Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District manager in Roswell, says the real culprit is the drought. He says no one thought it would be so dry for so long. But he warns that if a priority call were declared, it would simply mean Roswell area dairies would close, oil and gas interests would shut down, and still, he says, there would be no more water in the Pecos than there is now, and there would be no extra water for Carlsbad farmers.

In and around Carlsbad though, the drought has taken an ugly toll. Ranchers have greatly reduced herds, hay farmers have watched fields dry up and hay production fall drastically. A few ranchers say they were forced to sell acreage just to make bank payments while suffering devastating losses in farm and ranch revenue.

About the only thing New Mexicans can agree upon in southeast regions of the state these days is that substantial rain needs to return to the region to make water problems –instead of water—disappear. And if rains don’t fall soon, they say, what has long been an agriculturally-rich region may be reduced to little more than blowing dust in the wind.  

 

 

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