Aquifer level drop alarming

By Robin Fornoff
Projects editor

While underground water supplies may be taking a precipitous plunge in nearby Parmer County, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a similar drop in eastern New Mexico’s slice of the aquifer, according to studies by New Mexico’s State Engineer.
Aquifer levels are dropping across Curry and Roosevelt counties, according to officials, just not at the alarming rate a recent Texas Tech University study determined water supplies were being decimated in West Texas.

The Texas study found water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer plunged 100 feet in Texas’ Parmer and Castro counties in the past four decades — a rate more than double the drop in other counties using the same underground supply. The study notes most of the water loss was due to agricultural irrigation.

While no one from the New Mexico state engineer’s office responded to calls Wednesday, numerous studies posted on the agency’s website conclude water drawn from the aquifer in nearby Texas counties have negligible effect on the aquifer in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
At least one water utility official pointed to a steady annual drop in wells it uses to supply water to Clovis.
EPCOR Water District Manager Brian Daly said his most recent figures point to about a 2-foot annual drop in the aquifer at an estimated 60 of the company’s 74 active wells.

All of the wells seeing the drops are what Daly calls EPCOR’s southern wells, located roughly south of city limits on both sides of U.S. 70 to the Roosevelt County line.
Daly added, however, that he is also seeing some wells inside city limits — about 12 — recharging with water, though in small amounts.
“Wells are tough,” said Daly. “It all depends on who is next to you.”

Daly said he is in the process of collecting the latest measurements for EPCOR’s wells and should have more definitive numbers later this week. He said he does anticipate large drops in gallons-per-minute production of the southern wells because “now is when the most stress (ag irrigation) is on the aquifer.”

The most recent data available from the state engineer — from 2010 — shows about 90 percent of water sucked from the aquifer is used for agricultural irrigation in Curry and Roosevelt counties. Of the total 183,856 acre feet of water withdrawn in Curry County, 167,172 was used for irrigation.

An acre foot of water is the equivalent of 1 acre of surface water covered by water 1 foot deep or 325,853 gallons.
The numbers are similar in Roosevelt County, where 194,555 acre feet were withdrawn and 186,021 was used for irrigation.