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Commissioners back mayor's water conservation plan

Projects Editor

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Curry County commissioners offered support in the form of a resolution Tuesday backing Clovis Mayor David Lansford’s plan to ease pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer, the only source of drinking water across much of eastern New Mexico.

Lansford’s plan is to use available federal money to pay area farmers about $400 an acre to switch from irrigation to dryland farming. About 90 percent of annual withdrawals from the declining aquifer are from agricultural irrigation in Curry County.

During his presentation to commissioners, Lansford noted farmers would voluntarily participate in such a program. Lansford also insisted the federal grants his group is seeking won’t compete with possible funding of the Ute Water Project, which would pump water through a pipeline from Ute lake reservoir to communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Lansford noted the Ute pipeline gets the majority of its funding from the Bureau of Reclamation. His initiative is seeking USDA money, Lansford said.

Called the New Mexico Ogallala Preservation and Conservation Initiative, Lansford said the group has been preliminarily approved for a $4.1 million grant from the USDA. The full application must be presented to USDA on Oct. 2. Lansford told commissioners that a resolution in support of the effort would enhance the chances of receiving the grant money.

Lansford said the city has allocated $1.8 million to purchase water rights from about 900 acres on the J.L. Wall property near Cannon Air Force Base. He said various entities in the area have already invested about $52.5 million on water conservation efforts, ranging from the city’s wastewater reuse program to Clovis schools installing synthetic turf instead of grass at the high school football field.

Commissioner Tim Ashley questioned if Lansford’s initiative would prevent lateral migration of the aquifer from land where farmers participate to those who don’t.

Lansford said there will likely be some migration. He said best estimates now are water in the aquifer migrates about 3 acre-feet a year. Even a small number of farmers stopping irrigation would mean much less depletion each year, Lansford said, allowing the aquifer to recharge.