Cheese plant may conserve water

Mike Linn

Weighing water usage at a cheese plant against usage on agriculture farms is like comparing gas consumption in a Honda Civic to a fuel-guzzling sport utility vehicle.
Suffice it to say a cheese plant comparatively gets good water mileage. Water experts also say water extracted from milk to make cheese can be reused for irrigation on area farms.
“Really, we’re conserving water here,” Clovis Industrial Development Corporation executive director Chase Gentry said. “The plant is really going to be putting back more water than they’re ever pumping out of the ground.”
The Glanbia southwest plant to set up shop near the Roosevelt and Curry County line will produce about 400,000 more gallons of water a day than it will consume, according to Gene Hendrick, the president of the New Mexico Rural Development Council.
Hendrick, a consultant for the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, noted a cheese plant uses about half the water a farmer uses for crops in the same land mass.
The new plant will rest on what is currently about 2,840 acres of farmland, Hendrick said, and will use about 1 million gallons of water daily.
About 750,000 gallons of that water will go to a treatment plant. And since milk is 88 percent water, about 680,000 gallons of water will be extracted from the 6.5 million pounds of milk the plant will use daily to process the cheese, Hendrick noted.
Currently, none of the water from area milk producers is recycled in Curry and Roosevelt counties, Hendrick said.
More dairies may come to the area thanks to the extra business, but in Roosevelt and Curry counties, agriculture uses more than 95 percent of the area water, local officials say.
Hendrick estimated a vast majority of that water goes to irrigation for cropland, not to the dairies.
“Everybody thinks dairies are the big water users, and that’s just not true,” Hendrick said. “The big water users are the crop farmers.”
There are 62 dairies in Roosevelt and Curry counties, according to Gentry.