Published: April 9, 2013
A small water agency in southern New Mexico has moved to force state agencies that control water distribution to deprive some users of their supplies.
New Mexico Farmers Seek ‘Priority Call’ as Drought Persists March 27, 2013)
The irrigation district voted unanimously last week to make what is known as a “priority call” on the Pecos River, a move that could force New Mexico’s Office of the State Engineer to reallocate supplies, relying on a longstanding priority list and assigning water to all the users of the river based on their seniority. On Tuesday, the district was pressing its case at meetings with state officials.
This year, Carlsbad farmers have been told that they will receive only 10 percent of their normal water allotment, in part because of the lack of supplemental water from state-run wells.
The priority call, in the midst of the worst drought on record in the Pecos River Basin, which runs almost the full length of the state from north to south, could mean a loss of water for newer but more economically robust industries, including oil and gas extraction and cheese production. The oldest claims on water across the West tend to belong to the heirs of the farmers who first seeded the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Last month, Estevan R. López, the director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, warned the Carlsbad agency against taking the action.
“I understand the frustration of the C.I.D.’s farmers given the lack of water and the disappointing future climate forecasts,” he wrote in a letter to the district. “However, a priority call may not result in improvement.
“I caution you to be realistic in your expectations of the amount of water that is available for delivery to the C.I.D. under the current drought conditions.”
But the Carlsbad district is determined to make the state engineer enforce a priority call. As the district’s lawyer, Steve Hernandez, said, “New Mexico has to do what the law says, bite the bullet and start cutting people off.”