Many water problems related to unenforced laws

November 28, 2010 • Local News

It was the birthplace of ground water hydrology, but southeastern New Mexico still over -exploited its naturally replenishing basin to the point of disaster. Even though eastern New Mexico sits atop one of the world’s largest aquifers, it is still in dire need of a new water source. Benjamin Franklin quipped, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Mark Twain is credited for saying, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

If relatively sparsely populated eastern and southeastern New Mexico, sitting atop vast underground aquifers once thought inexhaustible, aren’t immune from Franklin’s and Twain’s epigrams, is any place? In the face of increasingly variable climactic activity, other places not so hydrologically well-endowed seem more and more likely to experience similar problems.

To save them the hassle, what lessons, if any, could they glean from the aquatic hardships eastern and southeastern New Mexicans have endured? Em Hall, a seven-year veteran of the Office of the State Engineer and now professor emeritus of law at the University of New Mexico, wrote High and Dry, a book on the legal struggles surrounding the Pecos River.

Reflecting back on the travails of the Pecos, he cites the $100 million the state has expended since the early 1990s to address its problems and says, “It shows how, unless you get your ducks in a row early, it’s going to be extremely expensive to make corrections.”

His advice for water users: “Move forward with great caution.” Asked whether the hardfought success with the Pecos River is a good example for others, he can’t get away from the finances. “It’s really hopeful,” he concedes, “but it’s extremely expensive.” Darrel Login to read more

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