After months of much discussion and attempted legislation, the Carlsbad Irrigation District’s five-member Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a resolution demanding a priority call on the Pecos River.
In 2003, the CID, the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District, the State of New Mexico, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation entered into a settlement to ensure that the state met its water delivery obligations to Texas and to provide water to the CID in times of shortage.
However, as the region’s ongoing drought has made the effort exceedingly difficult, CID manager Dudley Jones said the district has been progressively impacted by the lack of water.
In 2011, surface water and augmentation wells yielded the district 1.4 acre-feet of water per acre of land to allot among its farmers, he said. The district received .9 acre-feet in 2012 and has received .3 acre-feet per acre this year.
Since January, the CID and the PVACD have met several times with other state and government agencies to determine how to fulfill the CID’s needs without resorting to a priority call. After legislation that would have provided $2.5 million toward its efforts failed to pass the state Legislature, Jones said the district had no other choice.
“This is the only other mechanism we had available, under the settlement, to get water for users in the CID,” he said. “This was not a choice that was easily made by the board. A lot of thought, effort and discussion went into this.”
If granted, many have speculated the call would mean shutting down wells with junior rights north of the district, including those in the PVACD, in an effort to get water to flow into the Avalon Dam for the CID.
But Jones said it is up to State Engineer Scott Verhines to determine how to get water into the dam and there’s no definite time frame for when it will happen.
“We don’t know how he’ll go about that,” Jones said. “That’ll be his choice and his challenge.”
The CID issued a priority call in the 1970s, Jones said, which the state engineer never acted on. The CID has asked the state engineer what a priority call would look like, Jones said, but “didn’t get any clear answers.”
“We just know we have to do something to protect the members of the district,” he said. “The ball is in his court now. It’s just a difficult situation that we’re in.”
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Verhines said the Office of the State Engineer “will move forward and sort through the complex technical, administrative, legal and hydrological issues that will arise as the result of a call.”
“Although a formal priority call has not been transmitted to the Office of the State Engineer, it appears that the Carlsbad Irrigation District felt it had no other option but to take this step today at their board meeting,” the statement said.
While PVACD superintendent Aron Balok said there is no way of knowing how the office will administer the call, there is no quick, simple resolution.
“This is going to be tied up in litigation for several years,” he said. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to be a long-drawn out process. It’s not as cut and dried as some people have been led to believe.”
Balok said lawsuits could be filed on several issues, such as certain points of the call or how the state engineer chooses to administer it.
“We could see lots of lawsuits before we see any resolution made,” he said, adding that the PVACD has been readying itself for this scenario and is prepared for legal battles that may ensue.
The call itself is futile, Balok said because areas upstream, such as Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa, barely have enough water. If curtailment for upstream users is ordered, he said, “it would not offer relief for people in the CID.”
“You can turn these pumps off and let these grounds go fallow, but it will not be to their benefit,” he said.
Businessman Phelps Anderson echoed Balok, saying the priority call would produce “not a drop in the Pecos River for Carlsbad and will only enrich lawyers and expert witnesses in the legal battle ahead.
“We need to end this dreadful drought and neither a snow pack or rain is in the forecast.”
He said the state engineer must consider other issues and voices before he can respond to the call.
PVACD Vice President Greg Alpers said the organization is fully engaged in protecting the waters of the Pecos Valley and will address the issue at its next board meeting, scheduled for April 10.
In the meantime, Balok said users should be concerned, but not panicked.
“Until we have more information and we see how this will turn out, we simply have no way of knowing what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s going to be a long process and no one knows how we’re going to end up.”