SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Irrigators, municipalities and industry in parts of drought-stricken eastern New Mexico will be required to install meters on their underground wells to measure water use under a plan by the state’s top water manager.
State Engineer Scott Verhines said meters must be installed by January in the Fort Sumner Underground Water Basin, which is within a larger area that relies on surface water from the Pecos River. No meters will be necessary for household wells or small wells supplying water for livestock.
The metering requirement is expected to mostly affect irrigators in the sparsely populated water basin, which covers about 4,900 square miles of portions of DeBaca, Guadalupe, Quay, Chaves, Roosevelt and Torrance counties.
“New Mexico is experiencing our third year in a row of severe to exceptionally severe drought,” Verhines said in a statement. “Naturally, this has placed tremendous pressure on our state, especially our southeastern region. New Mexico must maximize our water supplies. Therefore we are protecting water rights owners from over-diversions and identifying any water waste by metering groundwater wells. In order to protect everyone’s water rights, we need to know exactly how much water is pumped.”
The small communities of Fort Sumner and Vaughn are included in the region.
However, wells used by the community of Fort Sumner already have meters, village clerk Bonnie Lilly said Thursday. The village has a population of about 1,000.
Denzel Finney, who irrigates about 1,750 acres near Fort Sumner, said he likely will have to install about 15 meters on wells that supply water to grow mostly alfalfa and corn. He estimated the meters could cost about $2,000 each.
“It’s not going to be a good thing for me just because it’s going to create more expense,” said Finney.
Verhines announced the metering plan on Wednesday and said he expected it would apply to about 60 to 80 wells in the region.
The state engineer last issued a meter requirement in 2006, which affected parts of the lower Rio Grande, according to a spokeswoman for the state engineer.
Alan West, manager of the Fort Sumner Irrigation District, said the meter requirement would not affect its operations because the district uses surface water from the Pecos River.
However, West said the new metering requirement may help officials better understand the possible effects of groundwater pumping on flows in the Pecos River. Some area irrigators with wells use equipment that rotates around a pivot point and sprinklers irrigate crops in a circular area. It’s sometimes called circle irrigation.
“These circles here, how much are they are impacting the river flow going down the river, we honestly don’t know,” said West.
The lower Pecos River downstream from the Fort Sumner area is at the center of a legal dispute over pumping from another groundwater basin.
The state Supreme Court is considering whether the state engineer’s office can transfer water rights to allow more pumping of groundwater near Carlsbad. The water will go by pipeline into a reservoir where it could be released to boost river flows and help New Mexico meet its legal obligations to deliver water to downstream irrigators and to the state of Texas.