Domestic wells going dry in Curry County

Argen Duncan

Domestic wells in some areas of Curry County are drying up, while Roosevelt County wells are still pumping, although often with less volume, according to the Office of the State Engineer.

This area of eastern New Mexico has three basins, geographical areas in which water drains to a specific point. Mike Barajas, OSE supervisor for the Curry County and Causey Lingo basins, said parts of the Ogallala Aquifer in the area are thin on water, and a working well might be located across the street from a dry one.

Barajas, who works out of Roswell, said areas east and west of U.S. 70 on Curry Roads 5 and 6 face serious shortages.

About three weeks ago, Barajas said, he spoke to a woman on Curry Road 6 whose private well went dry.

Also, places southwest of Cannon Air Force Base are seeing declines in the subsurface area saturated with groundwater, and areas around Ned Houk park have irrigation wells that are producing low amounts of water, he said.

The basin was declared in 1989, meaning anyone wanting to drill a well had to go through an approval process with the state to ensure new water use wouldn’t impair existing uses.

Barajas said it should have been declared earlier.

The Portales Basin and Causey Lingo Basin in Roosevelt County is faring better, he said.

“They’re not drying up domestic wells like they are in the Clovis area,” Barajas said of the Causey Lingo Basin.

Maureen Haney, public relations coordinator for the Office of the State Engineer, said the Portales Basin supervisor hadn’t heard of any wells going dry, but some are producing less water. Farmers in the area are seeking permits for supplemental wells because their existing wells aren’t producing enough water, she said.

Reports from the city of Portales show its wells are still producing, Haney said.

Depending on the area, Barajas said, the water level of the Ogallala Aquifer drops 1-3 feet per year. A place with 3-5 feet of water-saturated subsurface area could go dry in a year or two, he said.

Also, drilling below the bottom of the Ogallala Aquifer, even as deep as 2,000 feet, has yielded little water. The small amounts of water and the cost of drilling and pumping a well that deep make the practice not economically feasible, Barajas said.

Barajas said the declining water is the reason the state engineer set up guidelines to ensure a 40-year water supply for the Curry County and Portales basins in June 2010. The guidelines forbid any action that would cause more than a 1-foot drop in the water level in a 40-year period.

The decreasing water supply is also why the process for getting the Ute Water Pipeline has been stepped up, Barajas said. Ute Reservoir was created to supply water to Eastern New Mexico, he said.