Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Water and Nuts

I always have a tendency to over simplify things. An Associated Press story on the Albuquerque Journal website this morning reports the concerns of Pecan growers in Southern New Mexico over the amount of water they can take for irrigation. It is somewhat symbolic of the common good versus individual needs.

Pecans are a really good cash crop. Travel through the southern part of the state and you will see thousands of acres of Pecan and Pistachio trees. They require a lot of irrigation water to make them produce their valuable crops. Look here for an interesting primer on Pecan production. New Mexico is very productive because it uses new varieties of trees.

Now, along comes the guy with the hardest job in the world, State Engineer John D'Antonio, who says the Pecan growers need to limit their take of water to about 4 acre feet a year for every acre of their orchards. The farmers are allowed to either irrigate from the ditch in wet years or pump from the aquifers in dry ones. Thats about 325,000 gallons per acre foot. Add it up....over a millon gallons per acre a year. That is a fair amount of water for sure. The farmers say they will sue, along with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, to stop the State Engineer from putting this new policy regulation into affect.

The real problem is that many irrigators are now converting their land to these kinds of orchards because they produce a good amount of income. That will certainly affect New Mexico's ability to deliver the water it owes to Texas and Mexico every year.

You can probably see where this is all going. A giant train wreck. There is only so much water available and some will have to end up with less than they think they deserve. Then it will get ugly and the litigators will tie up the issue in the courts while the pumping and flood irrigation goes on.

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