Mayor downplays numbers in preliminary water application
A preliminary application for a $4.1 million federal water conservation grant claims the Ogallala Aquifer could be drained in 10 to 15 years at the current rate of consumption.
The dire warning along with others in the preliminary application, however, is being downplayed by Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who is leading the effort to secure the federal money.
“I know that based on subjective analysis you’re going to get a variety of opinions on that,” Lansford said Tuesday. “I have doubts about that number ... I think that is not necessarily the case.”
The aquifer is the only source of drinking water for most communities across eastern New Mexico, including Clovis and Portales. Lansford’s water conservation initiative proposes using federal grant money to pay area farmers to switch from irrigation to dryland farming during the fiscal years 2015-2019.
Various state and federal agencies estimate 90 to 93 percent of water taken from the aquifer is used for agricultural irrigation.
The prediction the aquifer could be drained in a decade is contained in a preliminary application for USDA grant money by the effort Lansford leads, the New Mexico Ogallala Preservation & Conservation Initiative. The preliminary application also notes, “Failure to address dewatering the local aquifer will devastate local real property values, create high unemployment rates, displace citizens and potentially cause Cannon (Air Force Base) to relocate.”
The document goes on to say, “The loss of U.S. military capital improvements may exceed ($1 billion.) The local economy could potentially shrink to half its current size if the Ogallala Aquifer is not conserved.”
Lansford said he wasn’t sure who was responsible for the information but he had serious doubts about the prediction concerning the aquifer being drained in a decade. Lansford said the application was prepared by the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD).
Debbie Hughes, executive director of the association, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call.
Lansford told Curry County commissioners on Aug. 19 the initiative had already secured approval to apply for the grant after their preliminary application was selected from among many others seeking the money. The final grant application must be submitted to the USDA by Oct. 2, according to Claire Burroughes, Clovis’ legislative and community development director.
Curry County commissioners endorsed the effort by resolution after Lansford told them it would bolster the initiative’s chances of securing the USDA grant.
Also at Lansford’s urging, the Clovis city commission recently approved using $1.8 million in economic development money to purchase water rights from a local farmer J.L. Wall to help ensure a future water supply at Cannon AFB. Wall’s 930 acres near Cannon are in the area being targeted by the initiative to pay farmers up to $300 an acre to switch to dryland farming.
Lansford said there is no disputing agriculture uses the majority of water in the aquifer for irrigation. He said Clovis and other communities have spent a combined total of about $50 million in recent years on water conservation measures “but we’re conserving only 5 to 10 percent of the water being used.
“This is a step toward real conservation,” said Lansford, “where you actually convert irrigated agriculture ... to dryland farms.”