In a statement released Thursday, the Office of the State Engineer says it will begin sending letters to irrigators in southern New Mexico who are already in danger of using more than their share of groundwater for the year.
A spokesperson says the office does not believe there are many farmers approaching their limits yet. And she says those who are close to using the maximum 4.5 to 5.5 acre-feet per acre are probably supplying water to other farms.
Still, during last year's drought, farmers facing reduced allocations of river water pumped up twice as much groundwater as in either of the two previous years. In August, the Third Judicial District Court set limits on groundwater use as part of the adjudication process in the lower Rio Grande.
According to the release:
State Engineer Scott Verhines notes, “2012 is a difficult year for New Mexican farmers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Rio Grande Project surface water supplies are low, and the 2008 Project Operating Agreement compounds the hardship by allocating less surface water to our EBID [Elephant Butte Irrigation District] farmers. We recognize that limiting over-diversion of groundwater may feel unfair during such dry times. However, over-diversions in one area can impact neighbors in another. Our team is working to protect the sustainability of our water resources, protect our farmers for the long term, and follow the decisions determined by the court. We encourage any and all questions and will work with irrigators to help them survive this dry year.”
Farmers found to have used too much groundwater could be required to repay up to double the amount of over-diversion during the following calendar year.