CARLSBAD, N.M. » Just after the local water board announced this month that its farmers would get only one-tenth of their normal water allotment this year, Ronnie Walterscheid, 53, stood up and called on his elected representatives to declare a water war on their upstream neighbors.
“It’s always been about us giving up,” Walterscheid said, to nods. “I say we push back hard right now.”
The drought-fueled anger of southeastern New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers is boiling, and there is nowhere near enough water in the desiccated Pecos River to cool it down. Roswell, about 75 miles to the north, has somewhat more water available and so is the focus of intense resentment here. Walterscheid and others believe that Roswell’s artesian wells reduce Carlsbad’s surface water.
For decades, the regional status quo meant the northerners pumped groundwater and the southerners piped surface water. Now, amid the worst drought on record, some in Carlsbad say they must upend the status quo to survive. They want to make what is known as a priority call on the Pecos River.
A priority call, an exceedingly rare maneuver, is the nuclear option in the world of water. Such a call would try to force the state to return to what had been the basic principle of water distribution in the West: The lands whose owners were the first users of the water — in most cases farmland — get first call on it in times of scarcity. Big industries can be losers; small farmers winners.
The threat of such a move reflects the political impact of the droughts that are becoming the new normal in the West.
“A call on the river is a call for a shakeout,” explained Daniel McCool, a University of Utah political scientist and author of “River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers.”
“It’s not going to be farmers versus environmentalists or liberals versus conservatives,” he said. “It’s going to be the people who have water versus the people who don’t.” And, he said, the have-nots will outnumber the haves.
Dudley Jones, the manager for the Carlsbad Irrigation District, said that water law and allocation practice have long diverged. “We have it in the state constitution: First in time, first in right. But that’s not how it’s practiced.” In New Mexico’s political pecking order, his alfalfa farmers, despite senior priority rights dating back 100 years, have little clout. The state water authorities, he said, “are not going to cut out the city.”
“They’re not going to cut out the dairy industry,” he added. “They’re not going to cut off the oil and gas industry, because that’s economic development. So we’re left with a dilemma — the New Mexico water dilemma.”
A priority call, said McCool, “will glaringly demonstrate how unfair, how anachronistic the whole water law edifice is.”
He added, “The all-or-nothing dynamic of prior appropriation instantly sets up conflict. I get all of mine and you get nothing.”
Continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe’s economy, productivity and ecosystems, a report has warned.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) said that the continent’s water resources were under pressure and things were getting worse.
It said limited supplies were being wasted, and nations had to implement existing legislation more effectively.
The EEA presented its findings at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles.
“The critical thing for us is that we are seeing an increasing number of regions where river basins, because of climate change, are experiencing water scarcity,” said EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.
“Yet behavioural change, and what that means, hasn’t really come about.”
Prof McGlade said the main purpose of the report was to raise awareness about the issue.
“Member states need to be clearer about the opportunities they can make in order to enhance their use of a scarce resource,” she told BBC News.
“Nations need to use different kinds of methods. Instead of just having a hosepipe ban to fix this year’s problem, you need to invest in a very different way.
“Long-term investment needs to recognise these different uses of how water is allocated, how it is used [and the need for] different water qualities.
“[The report] highlights all the different challenges as countries move from their historical position on water to where they are moving to [as a result of] climate change.”
Within the EU, agriculture uses about a quarter of the water diverted from the natural environment, and in southern Europe the figure is as high as 80%.
As there was an economic cost to farmers abstracting water to put on their crops, Prof McGlade said the sector was showing an increased awareness of where water was being used inefficiently.
The largest dam demolition in the nation’s history will begin Saturday when an excavator claws away at the concrete supports for Washington’s 108-foot Elwha River Dam, a ceremonial act of destruction that will signal not only the structure’s demise but the latest step in a broad shift in the way Americans are managing rivers.
Faced with aging infrastructure and declining fish stocks, communities are tearing down dams across the country in key waterways that can generate more economic benefits when they’re unfettered than when they’re controlled.
“What once seemed radical is now mainstream,” said American Rivers President Bob Irvin, whose group has advocated dam removal for environmental reasons. “All of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwha is the biggest example of that.”
The pace of removal has quickened, with 241 dams demolished between 2006 and 2010, more than a 40 percent increase over the previous five years. Many of them are in the East and Midwest, having powered everything, including textile mills and paper operations at the turn of the 20th century.
A drumbeat of litigation by tribes and environmental groups has pushed federal officials to dismantle some dams that otherwise would have remained in place. Although this has led to political fights in regions where dams matter the most, such as the Pacific Northwest, it has also forged historic compromises.
“The Elwha River restoration marks a new era of river restoration in which broad community support provides the bedrock for work to sustain our rivers and the communities that rely on them,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
LUBBOCK, Texas — Randy McGee spent $28,000 in one month pumping water onto about 500 acres in West Texas before he decided to give up irrigating 75 acres of corn and focus on other crops that stood a better chance in the drought.
He thought rain might come and save those 75 acres, but it didn’t and days of triple-digit heat sucked the remaining moisture from the soil. McGee walked recently through rows of sunbaked and stunted stalks, one of thousands of farmers counting his losses amid record heat and drought this year.
The drought has spread over much of the southern U.S., leaving Oklahoma the driest it has been since the 1930s and setting records from Louisiana to New Mexico. But the situation is especially severe in Texas, which trails only California in agricultural productivity.
McGee is still watering another variety of corn, cotton and sorghum but the loss of nearly one-sixth of his acres after spending so much on irrigation weighs on him.
“Kind of depressing,” the 34-year-old farmer said. “You use that much of a resource and nothing to show for it. This year, no matter what you do, it’s not quite enough.”
Instructor: Mike Vierra Ph: 280-7283
Kahana Maui — June 18th, 2011
Our 19th annual irrigation class will be held on 6-18-11 on the west side at 105 Ala Hoku Pl. (Friendly Isle Landscape base yard – CLICK for MAP) the class will focus on irrigation troubleshooting, repair and basic hydraulics. The class is open to all entry level and intermediate level irrigation technicians. The following will be covered:
- Controller diagnostics
- Electric Valve repair
- Backflow Repair
- Field wiring diagnostics
Each student should brig a small socket set, screwdriver; slotted and Phillips, and a voltmeter. All students will do hands on troubleshooting and repair so come dressed accordingly.
Class size is limited to the first 20 students to register. Refreshments and lunch will be provided. Please register early.
By Rep. Mele Carroll
This session I introduced House Bill 1483, which directs the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to provide water to Molokai Irrigation System users who lease tracts of land at a reduced rate. It also requires the DOA to forgive past due water bills for the provision of irrigation water for Molokai homestead farmers.
With this challenging economy, the hardship of our Molokai homestead farmers is real and I feel that we need to provide some relief to our farmers so they can continue to economically survive during these most trying times.
House Bill 1483 was advanced by the Committee on Hawaiian Affairs on Feb. 4, and will now advance to Joint House Committees on Agriculture and Water, Land & Ocean Resources for consideration.
The Molokai Irrigation Ditch was created for the homesteaders to be used for agricultural purposes, per an agreement made between the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the homesteaders and the Department of Water Supply. That agreement called for sufficient water be given to the homestead farmers to be used for their farming. As the years have progressed, the federal mandate that homesteaders be given two-thirds of the water allotment has seemingly lost its strength or forgotten altogether.
BAMNOD, India — The 50-year-old farmer knew from experience that his onion crop was doomed when torrential rains pounded his fields throughout September, a month when the Indian monsoon normally peters out.
For lack of modern agricultural systems in this part of rural India, his land does not have adequate drainage trenches, and he has no safe, dry place to store onions. The farmer, Arun Namder Talele, said he lost 70 percent of his onion crop on his five-acre farm here, about 70 miles north of the western city of Aurangabad.
“There are no limits to my losses,” Mr. Talele said.
Mr. Talele’s misfortune, and that of many other farmers here, is a grim reminder of a persistent fact: India, despite its ambitions as an emerging economic giant, still struggles to feed its 1.1 billion people.
Four decades after the Green Revolution seemed to be solving India’s food problems, nearly half of Indian children age 5 or younger are malnourished. And soaring food prices, a problem around the world, are especially acute in India.
Globally, floods in Australia and drought in China have helped send food prices everywhere soaring — on fears the world will see a repeat of shortages in 2007 and 2008 that caused food riots in some poor countries, including Egypt.
WAILUKU – Council Member Riki Hokama reopened the issue of moving the Central Maui sewage treatment plant inland at a meeting of the Water Resources Committee on Tuesday.
It was a surprise from the fiscally conservative Hokama. While he was off the council because of term limits, the County Council debated the wisdom of moving the Wailuku-Kahului plant (which is in a tsunami zone near the airport), but it shied away from the price tag of $300 million to $400 million.
But as long as members of the new council were throwing out surprising ideas, Council Member Joe Pontanilla mused that perhaps the county should “have an ordinance about how much greenery to put in” in landscaped dry areas.
He didn’t pursue that, but it showed that the council is concerned about diminishing water supplies.
The item under discussion was a report from the Department of Environmental Management about ways to increase the use of treated sewage effluent from the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
All the public testimony was in favor of making more use of reclaimed water. Even if it means higher rates and fees, said Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation.
It would. Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza said he had anticipated such a question, and the cheapest alternative would mean about a $5-per-month increase in water rates if spread out over the whole county.
WAILUKU – Earlier this year, the County Council demanded that the Lanai Co. “ask” for an appraisal of the value of its water company, with a view toward acquiring it to be part of the Department of Water Supply.
The appraisal by Brown & Caldwell is in. It estimates that if the county acquires the Lanai water system, rates would have to be raised nearly 900 percent, since costs of operation, new equipment and paying for the system would require nearly 10 times as much money as the $553,000 in revenue that the private company now enjoys.
On Tuesday, the Water Resources Committee, without comment, passed the agenda item on to the next council. If it had not done something, the Lanai proposal would have been filed.
Unresolved council projects expire automatically with the council that gave them birth, unless specific action is taken to pass the uncompleted work on to the next council. The next council will have five new members.
Mayor-elect Alan Arakawa has said since the beginning of his first term in 2003 that he wanted all water in the county to come under public control. That would include private water companies at Kapalua, Kaanapali, the Wailuku Water Co. and East Maui Irrigation.
However, during his first term, Arakawa did not acquire any private water for the county.