The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Q&A: Water Policy Strategic Planning Team chair talks issues in, around area

 

November 19, 2017



Editor's note: The Eastern New Mexico News emailed more than three dozen water-related questions to Clovis City Commissioner Ladona Clayton, who chairs the Water Policy Strategic Planning Team. Here are Clayton's responses, unedited:

Q: Is the City of Clovis in danger of running out of water in the next five years? Ten years? Twenty years? And how do you know?

A: The City of Clovis is not in danger of running out of water in the next five, ten, or twenty years. EPCOR, the water provider for the City of Clovis, has been very diligent to make sure that they have a sufficient amount of wells to provide for city residents and will continue to do so. EPCOR has increased the number of wells by converting agricultural wells to municipal use in the last few years. EPCOR and city residents have also been very conscious of conservation measures to decrease the use of water within the city. According to EPCOR's data, this type of voluntary conservation has already reduced the peak daily demand from 11MGD (million gallons per day) to 8MGD.

The effluent reuse system the city is building will continue to reduce the amount of groundwater needed to supply the city by providing water to parks, fields, and golf courses. This reuse system will reduce the amount of fresh groundwater used within the EPCOR system by 37% when it is completed. The reuse system will also create a revenue stream to fund some of the action plans brought forth in the Water Assurance Plan.

Q: What about Portales?

A: The City of Portales owns and controls their water system. The majority of their wells are in the same area as the wells for Clovis. They are experiencing the same type of challenges that we are seeing here in Clovis. We cannot speak to their plans or the viability of their current/future situation. We do know they have been looking to expand their well fields to make provisions for their future needs.

Q: How long before rural families in Curry and Roosevelt counties begin to feel the effects of water shortages in large numbers?

A: Families in the rural communities are already beginning to see changes with their wells. We cannot predict how long it will be before large numbers of families will be affected. The static water level (the level of the water when the well is at rest) in all wells within the Ogallala Aquifer has been reduced dramatically in the last 20 years. Many house wells are not producing anymore, are cavitating because of low levels, or are pumping a lot of sand. The problem is worse depending on where the well is sitting within the aquifer. We have people just south of town that do not have water in their personal wells and do not have access to the system that provides water to the residents of the town.

Q: If and when we begin to run out of water, what will that look like in the average resident's home?

A: The residents on the city water system may be subject to some mandatory conservation restrictions like we see in other communities like Lubbock or Albuquerque. We currently have voluntary restrictions on which days to water your yard or rules for washing cars.

Private wells will be more vulnerable to dropping levels in the aquifer. This is a problem that people with private wells have been and always will have to deal with. There are usually signs that a well is failing before it goes completely down; it's very seldom that a well just quits.

The Rawling and Rinehart (2017) study of the life of the aquifer recently presented to the Water Policy Advisory Committee shows a worst-case scenario for our area. It has to be looked at in the appropriate way. Their predictions are based on the current rate of pumping if we do not change anything. Their predictions are also based on a well having less than the thirty feet needed to support high use irrigated farming. At least 30 feet of saturated thickness is necessary for large-scale irrigation. Saturated thickness is the measured distance from the top of the aquifer to its base. The findings of this study should be used to show us what can happen if we do not begin to change the way we use our resources.

Lifetime projections for the High Plains Aquifer in east-central New Mexico. Available from:

http://www.cityofclovis.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/FINAL-OFR-591-High-Plains-Aquifer-lifetime-projection-LR.pdf [Accessed Jul 31 2017]

Q: Will we just wake up one day and find we have no water? Reduced water pressure? Hours of no water and then it returns?

A: The city water system is not designed in such a fashion that any of these problems should happen. The pressure on the system is controlled by consumer demand and the pressure will always be relatively stable. EPCOR will know far in advance if they are in a situation that may call for some type of mandatory water restrictions. The only way there would be no water would be in the case of a major power outage that would cripple their ability to pump water into the distribution system. The power outage would have to be several days long. There are generators installed at several of the booster pump stations that would still allow them to provide enough water to cover the city during a prolonged outage.

Q: Water filled with sand coming through the pipes?

A: Sand is an unfortunate effect of pumping groundwater. There could be trace amounts that do not settle out in the ground storage tanks at any time.

Q: With 93 to 97 percent of water use coming from agriculture interest, what can the average non-ag city resident do to realistically make a difference in conserving water?

A: Agricultural interest makes up 93 percent of water use, and domestic use Is 7 percent. Simple, common sense approaches will always make a difference. Everything we do on a daily basis will help. For example, turn off the water while you brush your teeth, shorten the length of showers, install low flow toilets, and water your yard in the early morning or late afternoon instead of the middle of the day. According to EPCOR's data, this type of voluntary conservation has already reduced the peak daily demand from 11MGD to 8MGD.

Q: Has anyone identified the major water-producing wells in Curry and Roosevelt counties? What percentage of water is coming from those major wells and where are they located?

A: There have been several studies done to find the areas with the best available water. One study that was used in the Water Assurance Plan is the Trinity Analysis that was commissioned by the Department of Defense. This report identified the paleochannel as one of the areas with the most potential for a sustainable groundwater source. The Strategic Water Planning Committee has proposed, as a part of the Water Assurance Plan, to secure and shut off for testing approximately 70 identified wells in the paleochannel for a period of one year. This one-year period would allow time to test pump and inspect the wells. It would also provide a window for negotiations with the landowners to buy or lease their water. It would secure a water supply, reduce groundwater usage, conserve groundwater, and extend the life of the aquifer until the Ute Project could be completed. The location of the paleochannel runs northwest of Cannon and joins the existing water supply purchased by the City of Clovis from J.L. Wall. The paleochannel will be able to provide water to the southern portion of the Ute Pipeline serving Clovis-Portales-CAFB until the completion of the project.

Q: Assuming the major water wells have been identified, what is the well owners' interest in conserving that water or selling it to municipalities?

A: The agreements to purchase/lease water rights have not been negotiated. There is some positive interest from the farmers in that area to change from the irrigated practices they currently use. The approach of the Strategic Water Planning Committee is to aggressively pursue water conservation opportunities that grow and maintain the economic base of our community by securing available water resources to meet future water needs before we get into a reactive vs. proactive situation.

Q: If all of those major water wells were shut down today, how long would that extend the life of the aquifer?

A: It is difficult to know exactly how to answer this question. No one can predict the future. We have to take the information we have and try to make the best decision based on the information available. The information from the Rawling and Rinehart (2017) study is based on the life of the aquifer if we continue to pump at the current levels and do not make any changes. This study shows that we basically have 10 years of water left for commercial irrigation until we get to the thirty-foot point commonly accepted to support irrigated farming. There will be water available for municipal use even after the thirty-foot mark. Using this information, if we stopped using an irrigation well running at 100% of its allotted capacity and converted it to a municipal well that would be running at 25% of its allotted capacity, we would extend the life of the aquifer by four times. This method would increase the life of the aquifer to 40 years. This is only a prediction, but we can see the prediction that happens if we do nothing. We need to be proactive. Someone asked, "If you knew this in 1962, why wasn't anything done before now?" We don't want to find ourselves asking in the near future why we didn't do anything in 2017.

The current city water supply combined with the completion of the water reuse pipeline and the available water resources in the paleochannel are projected to provide a water supply in excess of 60 years.

Q: There has been much discussion about leasing water from farmers for city use. Assuming those lease agreements happen, will there be restrictions on how much water the farmers can continue to use for themselves? If not, it seems such agreements would actually increase the amount of water drawn from the aquifer instead of reducing the amount of water drawn. Is that correct?

A: No, it is not correct. The idea behind leasing or buying the water rights from farmers is to stop irrigated farming. Taking wells out of irrigated crop production will significantly reduce the demand on the aquifer. The farmers would retain water rights to supply water to their households and livestock operations. The proposed Water Assurance Plan will not only benefit city residents, it will extend the water supply of those farms in the paleochannel to have water resources available for domestic and livestock uses.

Q: Do you have any idea what the cost might be to lease water from farmers annually to the degree it can make a difference in extending the life of the aquifer? Millions of dollars? Hundreds of millions? And where will that money come from?

A: The estimated cost is between $38M and $58M. This includes all of the testing of the wells to find out how much water they are capable of pumping and all of the piping to tie the paleo well field into the Ute Pipeline that is to be built from just north of CAFB to Clovis and Portales. The question about the funding will be answered when the City, EPCOR, or ENMWUA decides who is going to negotiate the final contracts for the water rights. An important factor to consider is that whoever decides to acquire those rights will be able to start selling that water to consumers to offset the cost. There is also a funding component from the sale of the reuse water provided for in the Water Assurance Plan. It should be noted the cost of securing the water and building the pipeline within the paleochannel is 5% of the projected cost of the Ute Pipeline if completed by 2038.

Q: Everyone understands the agriculture industry is responsible for draining the aquifer. And hopefully everyone understands the agriculture industry is a major driving force of the economy. Has anyone researched what might happen to the economy if agriculture stopped using the water? How many jobs would be lost? Or how might jobs be created if agriculture suddenly goes dry?

A: The way this question is stated is unfair to the pioneers that built this community. It is more appropriately worded that everyone understands agriculture is the largest local user of water from the aquifer. What many people do not understand is that the private landowners purchased water rights from the state, and the water rights are part of their property. Therefore, while agriculture uses much of the water in our area, the landowners are operating well within their rights from the state of New Mexico.

The agriculture industry has provided our food supply for over a century while sowing into Clovis and Curry County to enhance economic progress and our quality of life. Irrigated agriculture forms the base of the regional economy. Agriculture as a whole makes up 70% of the economic base in Clovis/Curry County. Our committee recognizes the importance of agriculture to our economy as the largest regional economic force. Many local businesses derive the vast majority of their income from agriculture. Agriculture producers pay a large portion of property taxes that in turn provide many of the community services that we all enjoy.

To more specifically answer your question, New Mexico State University's College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences has great information regarding Agriculture's Contribution to the New Mexico Economy (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR675/welcome.html). The information was published in 2014 and shows that agriculture production is the number one economic driver in the east central region of NM, comprised of Quay, Curry, Guadalupe, De Baca, and Roosevelt Counties. The direct employment impact in this region is 3,906 jobs with a total employment impact of 5,396 jobs. These numbers do not account for the food processing jobs in the area, which are often directly tied to area agriculture. Food processing is the second largest economic driver in this region with a direct employment impact of 757 jobs and a total employment impact of 1,219 jobs. While the question asks more specifically about Clovis, this region as a whole utilizes agricultural businesses and financial institutions based in Clovis.

There is no information about job creation in the absence of agriculture so specifics would simply be speculative. It is doubtful, however, that new non-agriculture jobs would be greater in number than the total employment impact of agriculture and food processing.

Water is a complex and delicate topic in this region. Unlike many counties in NM with substantial acreage owned by state and federal governments, Curry County is largely owned by private landowners, many of which have been here for multiple generations. With time, the amount of water used by agriculture has decreased significantly because of enhanced irrigation technologies and conversion to more drought tolerant plants. Much of this research is conducted by the New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center within Curry County. We are both mindful and thankful for the local businesses that make this information and technology available to the local landowners.

Q: Has anyone researched what might happen to the economy if agriculture stopped using the water?

A: It is important to realize that we are on the forefront of a transitional period in which agriculture, as well as the community, must learn to adapt to an economy that is less dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer. The water plan being proposed accelerates that transition on approximately 8,000 acres of irrigated land that will be converted to either dryland farming or livestock operations while still maintaining a strong agricultural base. It is imperative that we begin to make this transition voluntarily, rather than mandatorily, as the impact on our economy will be less dramatic under this scenario. We are fortunate in that our economy is not 100% dependent on agriculture. Many communities have no economic diversification and depend on the Ogallala as their only source of water.

The area within the paleochannel consists of several irrigated farms that are owned by multi-generational families that are some of the earliest residents in Curry County. Those families have not sold their land to dairies and have a limited number of employees, so the transition away from irrigated farming will have a minimal impact on the local economy on the farms within the paleochannel. Those operations and landowners realize that to continue pumping their wells as they have in the past limits the livelihoods of those operations. They also recognize that the current land and water management policies must be reconsidered looking towards sustainable management practices in the long term.

Our plan includes playa restorations and the use of an agricultural land and water trust that can provide financial benefits to the local farmers both in the paleochannel and area wide. The hopes of a land and water trust are to work with area agriculture producers and develop land management policies and strategies that will aid in the transitional process providing economic benefits that will continue to provide the area a vibrant agricultural economy.

Q: What kind of future do you think eastern New Mexico has in terms of business and population growth given the water situation?

A: The future is bright; you must understand that the policies and changes that our water plan is proposing are estimated to provide up to 60 years of water without the Ute pipeline. The fact that we are recognizing our shortfalls as related to the remaining life of the Ogallala Aquifer allows us as a community to develop needed conservation strategies and bank existing water resources to meet our water needs for the foreseeable future, which was our goal as a committee. The Ogallala Aquifer covers 8 states and 82% of the communities above the Ogallala receive 100% of their water supply from Ogallala. In our instance we also are in the process of obtaining funding and building the Ute Pipeline. While the pipeline is a long-term solution to our water woes, it is the sustainable piece to our water supply. Many communities do not have surface water sources reserved to meet future needs as we do. As the aquifer is depleted, many communities will simply run out of water whereas we have an alternative source once the Ute pipeline is completed allowing our community to maintain our population and grow accordingly.

Q: Do we need to be discouraging businesses that require a lot of water? Discourage them from moving in?

A: Our team is requesting in our plan to place a moratorium on bringing in new businesses that will require the use of groundwater to operate their business. The thought process is to dedicate the reuse water for future economic development and to recruit businesses that can use reuse water in their operations. The sale of reuse water in turn would then help pay for the cost of development of groundwater resources for the community. The City will have approximately 4.2 million gallons daily of reuse water available after taking the 1.7 million gallons from Southwest Cheese. Of the available reuse water, 3.0 million gallons daily will be used to water parks, ball fields, and golf courses through the proposed reuse system during peak demand periods, leaving approximately 1.2 million gallons that can be used to recruit businesses and industry that can use reuse water in their operations. Additional reuse water will be available in the winter months as demand will decline from watering parks, ball fields, and golf courses. If the reuse water system is expanded to include watering subdivisions and new property development, less will be available for business and future economic development.

Q: Discourage them from staying here?

A: Our goals in the plan are to secure adequate water resources to maintain and grow our current economic base and allow for growth and expansion of Cannon Air Force Base. The proposed plan will meet our existing water demands for up to 60 years. It is important to note that Congress is considering another round of BRAC hearings in 2019, and this water plan, if approved, will demonstrate to the Department of Defense our commitment to keep providing sufficient water to Cannon Air Force Base to meet future demands and any prospect of potential consolidation of other military installations into CAFB.

Q: How would you define "a lot of water?" How many gallons does the average consumer use at home every day? How much does the average business with 25 employees use in a day?

A: To define a lot of water depends on who you are and what your needs are; it might also depend on how desperate you are for water, pretty much a hypothetical question. Let's try and put that into perspective relative to what Clovis water needs are and as compared to agriculture. According to EPCOR's 2016 financial report filed with the NM Public Regulation Commission, they sold 1,650,194,000 gallons of water to 15,927 customers of which,14,298 were residential and 1,629 were commercial. The average residential customer used 81,973 gallons annually or 224 gallons per day. The average commercial customer used 293,442 gallons annually or 804 gallons per day. To put that into perspective with agricultural use, it requires 100,000,000 gallons of water to grow 120 acres or one circle of corn; the amount of water required to grow 16 circles of corn would be equal to the annual water usage of the City of Clovis.

Q: What is the number that we should begin focusing on to make a realistic difference in reducing water consumption? Could we extend the life of the aquifer by one year if we reduced water consumption by 1 million gallons per day? Looking for perspective here.

A: The largest use of water that can effectively be reduced to increase the remaining life of our aquifer is water used for landscapes (lawns, trees, shrubs, etc.). Presently, it is estimated that the landscapes in our parks, schools, golf courses, and ball fields use approximately 1/3 of our total water consumption, which is 1,750 acre feet or 570,500,000 gallons annually or 1.56 million gallons daily. Currently, approximately 2,800 acre feet of water from the wastewater treatment plant is available for reuse. The proposed completion of the water reuse system in our water plan will cost approximately $11 million thereby reducing our groundwater usage by 1/3. The reduction in groundwater usage should, in turn, extend current groundwater resources by a like amount of time or by 1/3. Therefore, if we have 10 years of water remaining, it could turn into 15 years and 14 years would turn into 21 years through conservation and water reuse. The income from the sales of reuse water will repay the loans and generate an income stream to pay for other water sources and/or infrastructure. The reuse system should be expanded to neighborhoods and any new subdivisions should either be xeriscaped or be required to use reuse water to meet any landscaping needs. The reuse water system should be expanded to effectively offset as much groundwater use as possible. Homeowners should plant more native species of plants that are drought tolerant and require much less water. The most cost effective solution to our water woes is conservation and water reuse, all the while saving available groundwater supplies for household use and drinking water.

Q: The Ute Water Pipeline has long been touted as a long-term solution for a sustainable water supply in Clovis-Portales. Is that still likely? If so, how much longer before it's here? And how much more money will it cost to complete?

A: Yes. The pipeline is the long-term solution for a sustainable water supply, but it cannot stand alone as the sole solution. We also need to secure adequate groundwater supplies to meet future needs until the pipeline is completed while preparing to meet future water needs in times of drought when the reservoir is too low to pump. Engineer John Whipple, who completed the Ute Reservoir Study, was quoted in the October 26, 2013, Clovis News Journal, and his study figured in the effects of drought. "It was always assumed pumping from Ute would be limited during droughts and the seven communities would turn to groundwater wells to supplement their needs." "'I think they are in a fortunate position out there," said Whipple. "To be able to take surface water (from Ute Lake) and relax pumping of groundwater and save it for times when they have a drought. There are not a lot of places in New Mexico that fortunate.'"

Ute study write has no definitive opinion on update. Available from: http://www.cnjonline.com.php56-17.ord1-1.websitetestlink.com/2013/10/26/ute-study-writer-has-no-definitive-opinion-on-update/ [Accessed May 10 2017].

At the same time, Lubbock, Texas, appears to support Whipple's position on the need for groundwater wells when the reservoir is too low to pump. "It wasn't all that long ago when the city of Lubbock got almost all its water from Lake Meredith. The city did so for several decades, but strenuous use along with little recharge made Lubbock and the other 10 cities that get water from the lake stop when the water fell below pump level."

Pumping up: Thanks to rains, Lubbock getting water from Lake Meredith. Available from: http://lubbockonline.com/local-news/2015-06-19/pumping-thanks-rains-lubbock-getting-water-lake-meredith [Accessed Apr 11 2017]

Amarillo and Lubbock acquired substantial groundwater resources at a cost of more than $229 million to offset the loss of reservoir water when Lake Meredith became too low to pump. The combination of surface water along with groundwater resources have allowed those communities to meet water supply demand for present and future needs allowing for economic growth within their communities.

Pickens sells Panhandle water. Available from: http://abc7amarillo.com/news/local/pickens-sells-panhandle-water [Accessed Mar 15 2017]

Canadian River Municipal Water Authority. Available from: http://www.crmwa.com/history-of-crmwa/ [Accessed Apr 11 2017]

The biggest problem with the pipeline is the timeline. Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is funding $38M to $50M annually in rural water projects. Six projects are on the list and the Ute Pipeline is number six. The first project, the Garrison Diversion Project in North Dakota, was initially authorized in the late 1940's, reauthorized in 1964, and construction began in the early 1980s. As of 2015, the project was 35 years old, 61% complete, and $333M in funding was needed to complete it. This project has been receiving approximately $12M annually in federal funding, the highest priority project to receive federal funds through the BOR. The following excerpt from the ENMWUA Quarterly Report, dated March 26, 2015, page 39, states the following from the BOR: "At an annual funding level of approximately $50 million for construction, without additional non-federal funding above the minimum requirements, some progress would be made towards project completion, but some of the currently authorized projects would be completed much later, perhaps not until well after 2065 . . . . It is estimated that as of 2065, an outstanding balance of approximately $1.8 billion [inflated] would still remain to complete construction of currently authorized projects."

The ENMWUA Quarterly Report also goes on to say on page 78 that the estimated cost of the pipeline project is $1.18 billion with an estimated completion date of 2038. Considering current federal and state budgets, it is reasonable to estimate that the completion date could be well beyond 50 years, unless Congress authorized a special appropriation for the Ute Pipeline.

ENMWUA Quarterly Workshop, March 26, 2015.

Available from: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53d286dee4b0d2c0c0ec049e/t/551996fce4b017e01340b999/1427740412256/ENMQUA+Workshop+Presentation_3-26-15+%281%29.pdf [Accessed Jan 26 2017]

The Ute Pipeline is essential to developing a sustainable water supply in Eastern New Mexico; however, the cost and timeline fail to meet our water needs in the immediate and intermediate future. The seven member communities of the water utility authority must begin securing adequate groundwater sources to meet local needs beyond 40 years while a groundwater supply remains. We must begin banking water for the future, or we will run out of water.

Q: While we are all concerned about running out of water, we are also keenly aware that individuals own most of the water in our region. Do you think there is a point where government should step in and say everyone's need for water trumps private-property rights? If so, when should that happen?

A: The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority (ENMWUA) is not allowed to encumber water rights through eminent domain; the water utility authority can only acquire water rights from willing sellers. The City of Clovis or any incorporated municipality or county, on the other hand, could acquire water rights through eminent domain if it was determined necessary for the public good to sustain their communities. In this case, they would be required to pay a market value for those water rights as determined by multiple appraisals and the courts. The legal costs and time associated with the acquisition of water rights through eminent domain could be very time consuming, and the legal costs could be quite expensive. It could take years to settle on values while property owners would continue pumping wells until the courts ordered otherwise.

More importantly, neither the city nor the county have any interest in a condemnation act to acquire water. The least expensive and most honorable way to acquire water rights and turn off wells is to work with the agricultural producers to negotiate a fair value for essential water needs. The water plan being proposed is to work with the agricultural community now and secure the greatest amount of water while it still remains, thereby avoiding costly litigation and securing the greatest amount of water.

 

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