The Carlsbad Irrigation District’s announcement Tuesday of plans to request a priority call on water usage smacks of desperation and poses a threat of further damaging an already fragile situation regarding our area’s most vital resource.
Inviting the government to address the issue is likely to create a lengthy, expensive and complicated battle fraught with unintended consequences for all parties.
In a nutshell, a priority call restricts the use of water by people with junior water rights until users with more senior water rights have been able to get the water to which they are entitled. During lean times, priority calls ensure water users with the oldest claims aren’t left high and dry by more recent arrivals.
These are indeed lean times. Years of drought conditions have put a serious strain on our region’s water supplies. Water in the Pecos River is further stretched as New Mexico has to ensure Texas gets its allocated amount of water each year.
The situation has gotten so bad the state has purchased water rights from land owners so they will no longer be available for use or, more disturbingly, to use those water rights to pump ground water into the river.
The Carlsbad Irrigation District’s push for a priority call is an exercise in futility which has huge potential to harm many water users with almost no potential benefits to anyone. It will also cost taxpayers huge amounts of money to study and litigate the issue without improving the situation. Consultants and attorneys collecting large fees would be the only winners in this dispute.
Using the threat of a priority call earlier this year, the CID first tried to coerce the state into giving $2.5 million dollars to farmers in the Carlsbad region. When that didn’t work, the CID went forward with pushing for a priority call.
One of the major flaws with the CID’s efforts to get more water is that Carlsbad water users heavily rely on the Pecos River and users here mostly rely on ground water. While the CID contends reducing ground water usage here will increase the water levels in the river, not everyone agrees. Opponents of the priority call state decreasing the use of ground water will not significantly raise the river’s volume and what small good it might do would take years to happen.
If implemented, the priority call would leave junior users unable to tap into ground water supplies which are of no serious benefit to people who rely on the river. That ground water would sit unused as farmers and ranchers suffered to the gain of no one. Only the end of drought conditions has the ability to solve the plight of Pecos River water users.
Hopefully the state engineer will see the priority call for what it is and recognize the futility of it. Shutting off junior wells upstream — and undoubtedly some in the CID — will not increase the water in the Pecos River. The time and money a priority call would consume would be better spent on exploring other options.