In an area south of the Canadian River in New Mexico the average water-level decline from 1980 to 1999 was about 26 feet or 1.4 feet per year. The consequences of this dwindling water supply and what can be done was the topic of a July workshop in Portales sponsored by the New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Society, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and New Mexico State University.

The workshop, entitled “Land Uses and their Effects on the Ogallala Aquifer”, featured presentations on the future impacts on stakeholders, technological challenges, and needs in a time of uncertainty. It offered presentations on symptoms of poor irrigation efficiency, pump efficiencies, and subsurface drip irrigation systems. There was a discussion of economics of cropping alternatives and limited/non-irrigated production options. Speakers included Robert Gold, United States Geological Survey; Lee Tillman, Eastern Plains Council of Governments; Joe Whitehead, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Lowell Catlett, New Mexico State University; and many others.

The search for solutions to the declining water level in the Ogallala Aquifer recently gained momentum with the introduction of the “High Plains Aquifer Hydrogeologic Characterization Mapping, Modeling and Monitoring Act” (S.2773) by Senator Jeff Bingaman. This legislation seeks to extend the life of the Ogallala by setting up the framework needed to work toward long-term solutions to reduce the rate at which water from the aquifer is being mined.

Conservation critical

How long the precious water of the Ogallala Aquifer will last is not known. Therefore, conservation is critical. Solutions must be sought and alternatives explored. The Portales workshop provided a forum to identify and address the issues and opportunities associated with agricultural use of the Ogallala Aquifer while improving or sustaining the natural resources. The Natural Resources Conservation Service in New Mexico, for example, is offering farmers incentives to transition from high water use to low use irrigation or dryland cropping and grazing through the 2002 Farm Bill, Ground and Surface Water Conservation program.