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Courts establish PVACD to conserve Roswell-Artesian Basin

November 25, 2010 • Local News

Beyond the river that winds to the east, Roswell has the façade of a stereotypical desert. But don’t be deceived by the dry dearth and parched flora. A visit to its subterranean shows a wetter world.

The Pecos River, with headwaters in northern New Mexico and an end at the river’s confluence with the Rio Grande in Texas, is the valley’s most obvious water source.

In terms of Pecos Valley usage and overall flow, the river is dwar fed by its underground counterpart. Sliding below the earth’s surface east of the slit in the Sacramento Mountains that serves as its intake, the basin sprawls east until it dead-ends at the Pecos River. From north to south, it spreads from Vaughn to Seven Rivers.

The snowmelt and rainwater that slip off the mountainous slopes into the basin, or aquifer, naturally replenish the system. As those familiar with the lay of the southeastern New Mexico land well know, Roswell is several thousand feet lower than the mountains 80 miles to the west.

The result is, like the oldtime photographs of oil gushing forth, fountain-ing really, out of the earth, a highly pressurized aquifer (i.e. an artesian aquifer) that, if not overly depleted, saves basin farmers the expense and hassle of pumping their life-blood. Looming over the basin, a shallower, non-artesian water source connected to the Pecos River adds to the valley’s surprisingly vast water supply. But, as humans tend to do, after the artesian water was discovered (reportedly by Roswell’s Nathan Jaffa) in the summer of 1890, residents pushed the resource to its limit.

By 1915, 1,242 wells plunged into the aquifer. Forty years later, 158,000 acres of farmland, an alltime high, were under water from the basin. In a classic case of the “tragedy of the commons” (recall from high school economics the communal grazing land destroyed by over-grazing), basin farmers were not just using more water than the aquifer could replenish, but, by puncturing it with so many wells, they were also de-pressurizing the system.

Farmers increasingly needed pumps to irrigate. Cognizant of the importance of finite water sources in the area, the District Court of Chaves County established the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District in 1932 “to conserve the waters of the Roswell-Artesian Basin, including the lands within the Basin located in both Chaves and Eddy Counties.” The year prior, New Mexico applied surface water law to ground water, bucking the trend of allowing land owners indefinite Login to read more

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