State stops pumping water from Pecos

September 18, 2013 • Local News

City of Roswell Street Department employees assess the flood damage to the bridge on E. Mescalero near the Roswell Country Club, Tuesday morning. The road will be closed for the foreseeable future and workers on site said the reconstruction should begin around November. (Mark Wilson Photo)

The recent heavy rains in New Mexico have boosted water supplies enough to prompt the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to stop pumping water through the Pecos River to Carlsbad, officials announced Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, Carlsbad Project surface-water supply was measured at more than 110,000 acre feet, water that can be used for farmers in the Carlsbad Irrigation District.

“Last week’s rains brought the region out of crisis status,” said Interstate Stream Director Estevan Lopez, in a [auth] statement. “We’re relieved that we are no longer required to pump groundwater under the Pecos Settlement.”

The state commission’s Seven Rivers and Lake Arthur well fields, located within the Pecos River Basin, between Roswell and Carlsbad, can stay shut down until at least March, according to the commission.

Carlsbad asked the State Engineer to enact a priority call on water from the Pecos River this year. Three years of a severe drought had reduced flows to levels not seen since 1970, the worst year on record.

Since then, the state commission has spent an estimated $92,000 a month to pump water downriver to supply farmers in Carlsbad. The Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District was working with Carlsbad to come up with a solution to avoid the priority call, as Roswell-area agriculture also was hard-hit by drought and further draining of water resources.

But, last week’s flooding and unexpected rainfall in the region recharged supplies throughout the area.

As of Monday, Chaves County Flood Control Superintendent Dick Smith said Carlsbad measured 139,812 acre feet in storage.

“They went from nothing to that much,” Smith said. “That’s unheard of.”

An “acre foot” is the equivalent of one acre of land filled with water one foot deep.

Some Carlsbad-area farmers will get an additional four-tenths of an acre-foot per acre in the district, according to The Associated Press. The amount is still short of the 3.65 acre-feet per acre the farmers are allowed in non-drought years.

“The drought isn’t over,” Smith said. “We could have a very wet fall. We have had a lot of flooding in October before. All the ground is wet. When we get rain on these soils, the water runs off rapidly. Now is a very dangerous time for us.”

Smith determined the rainfall that came down from the Blackwater Draw’s 533-mile region into the Berrendo Creek last Wednesday was “extremely unusual.”

He ran the data through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates. Smith found that the rainfall levels, which reached 7.92 and 11 inches in the Blackwater Draw region, are rare.

“We expect to have that kind of precipitation every 1,000 years,” Smith said. “This is rare. It’s something I’ll never see again.”

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