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.”
Europe’s water resources ‘under pressure’
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.
How El Paso is beating the worst drought in a generation
When Ed Archuleta first arrived in El Paso to manage the local water authority, the cotton barons and cattle men who run this desert city had a blunt message for him. This is Texas, they told him. We don’t do conservation.
It’s a good thing Archuleta didn’t listen. As a record drought scorched America’s south-west this spring, El Paso went 119 days without rain. The Rio Grande, which forms the border with Mexico, shrunk into its banks. An hour’s drive out of town, ranchers sold off their cattle so they wouldn’t have to watch them die.
Archuleta, in his office overlooking a long seam of strip malls, saw no reason for panic – even though, in his words, the amount of precipitation in the first rain this year was about as much as someone spitting on a water gauge.
“We’re going to be fine this summer,” he said. “We’re basically drought-proof.”
The city will be fine next year too, even if it doesn’t rain, and even if the Rio Grande stays low. “We can handle drought next year. Theoretically, even if we have no water in the river, even if there wasn’t a single drop of water coming from the river, we could make it through the summer,”
Taylor aims to take care of existing water issues
WAILUKU – If you ask Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor what keeps him awake at night, he might think of something lurking in the depths of a 647-foot-long tunnel.
A single, aging pump, accessible only by descending to the very bottom of “Shaft 33,” a 65-year-old well above Wailuku, is responsible for delivering more than 5 million gallons of water per day to Central and South Maui. If the pump were to fail, thousands of residents could be without water until it was repaired – and that would be a long wait, he said.
“This kind of thing would be very, very hard to fix,” he said. “It’s difficult even to get to.”
While voters clamor for the county to provide more water to a growing population – and politicians promise to deliver it – Taylor said one of his biggest jobs will be to remind people that the county first needs to take care of the water customers it already serves. And that can take a lot of time and money in a system that includes more than 750 miles of pipelines; infrastructure located deep in mountainous jungles; and century-old water intakes and ditches that must integrate with state-of-the-art treatment plants.
“All the discussion is about expanding service,” he said. “There’s very little discussion about what it takes to keep reliable service to existing customers.”
Calling Shaft 33 one of the system’s weakest links, Taylor said it’s imperative that the county continue a project that is already under way to replace the aging well with three smaller, modern ones tapping into the same aquifer.
Lanai could have future water issues
There’s not enough for all projects planned, proposed; viability of cloud forest a worry
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
WAILUKU – Building out all the developments that have already been planned or proposed on Lanai would result in more water being pumped out of the island’s wells than could be sustained, according to the county’s draft Lanai Water Use and Development Plan.
The plan also finds that as much as 28 percent of the water pumped on the island is unaccounted-for due to loss or waste in the system, and that the island’s watershed is so fragile that a loss of the Lanaihale cloud forest could reduce water levels in the island’s only viable aquifer by 50 percent.