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.”
Ongoing drought conditions on Maui have prompted the county to adjust potable water production in the Upcountry area, the Maui Department of Water Supply said Friday.
On or about Wednesday, the department will reduce production at the Olinda Water Treatment Facility to 0.1 million gallons per day from 1.8 mgd to give Upper Kula reservoirs time to be refilled by rain.
The 30-million-gallon Waikamoi Reservoir is empty and the 100-million-gallon Kahakapao Reservoir is at 39.5 million gallons, the department said.
In the meantime, Upper Kula customers will get water from the Kamole water treatment facility in Haliimaile, the Piiholo treatment facility in Makawao and the Po‘okela well in Makawao.
Upper Kula customers may notice a change in water quality because the water from the lower elevations is disinfected with chlorine. The water meets all federal and state water quality standards.
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.
The Hawaii County Department of Water Supply is considering building a wind farm to power its South Kohala wells.
The department would lease about 80 acres of state land next to its Lalamilo wells and have a developer build the wind mills.
The project would create 50 construction jobs and three permanent jobs.
Department energy management analyst Julie Myhre says a wind farm built on the site in the mid-1980s has been decommissioned and the site has been cleaned up.
West Hawaii Today reported Monday the wind farm would save about $500,000 a year in electricity costs for the next 20 years.
A department spokeswoman says it’s too early to tell if the facility would generate excess energy to sell to Hawaii Electric Light Co.
WAILUKU – Hearing passionate pleas for Upcountry water meters, the Maui County Council Water Resources Committee expressed support for an outright purchase of a privately developed well in Makawao that could cost about $8 million.
Committee Chairman Mike Victorino recommended deferral of the issue with a pledge to push for a county report within the next 45 days on the possible purchase of the groundwater well that could lead to water meters for many Upcountry property owners long on a waiting list.
“Outright purchase is what we prefer,” Victorino said, referring to the negotiation of a water source agreement with Piiholo South LLC. “There’s more work to be done, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The County Council adopted a resolution Aug. 6, urging the county administration to acquire a well that, according to developers Zachary Franks and Cynthia Warner, has been tested to produce 1.7 million gallons per day of water pure enough to drink without further treatment.
WAILUKU – Maui County will be offered a chance Tuesday to buy a water well in Makawao that could make deep inroads into the Upcountry meter waiting list.
The well, known as Piiholo South, already exists, and it has been tested to produce 1.7 million gallons per day of water pure enough to drink without further treatment, according to Zachary Franks and Cynthia Warner, the developers.
But to finance the proposed $8 million price (including infrastructure), the county would likely have to find funds outside the Department of Water Supply. In the past, water source development has been paid for with department funds, not county general funds, supplemented by grants and borrowing through bond sales.
Only recently has the county budget supplemented the finances of the water department, with $1 million for a study of storage in the current budget. But until now, the department has had to pay for its own wells and reservoirs, unless it could get the state to cover the bill, as it did with the Kahakapao reservoirs.
The County Council Water Resources Committee will take up the issue during a meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers. Panel Chairman Mike Victorino said discussion of the matter would be preliminary.
“The focus of the committee meeting will be simply to gather information,” he said. “But there is possible public use of this privately owned well, and I’m eager to explore this potential.”