Meanwhile, oil "fracking" companies are desperately in need of water. Large volumes of water are used for a drilling technique that has been around for decades. The process involves blasting huge volumes of water, fine sands and chemicals into the ground in order to free oil trapped in shale formations deep beneath the surface.

"However, farmers who opt to sell their supplemental water must temporarily, or permanently, transfer their license to a commercial status through the state streams commission,” Houghton says. “They aren't allowed to pump as much water out of the well because some of the water used for agriculture makes its way back to the aquifer, while selling the water commercially doesn't. So they are limited on how much they can pump, and that amount is much less than if they were using it to water their crops."

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New Mexico Interstate Stream Commissioner Jim Wilcox, who lives in the Carlsbad area, says a lot of farmers are selling their supplemental water this year. He says he can't blame them for trying to salvage a desperate crop year, but he warns landowners that they must apply to the state engineer to change their permit status before pumping.

Even so, there are some who are voicing concern that not everyone is following the law — pumping and selling water without the proper permits.

Houghton says at least one area farmer reports the aquifer is dropping more rapidly than in other dry years, and concern is growing in the area that the amount of water needed to replenish the aquifer may not come for many years.       

In a published report in the Carlsbad Current-Argus newspaper, another farmer, Jim Davis, says he has been legally selling supplemental water for a number of years, but claims many others are pumping and selling water illegally, without public notification or proper permits.

In the report, Davis claims some are selling up to 9-acre feet of water without the proper permit, and that it has caused a drastic drops in the aquifer without any recharge.