One of Leonard and Evelyn Wallin’s ranches east of San Jon recently ran out of well water.
“Well it’s been real weak for the last two or three years but it finally just quit. We had some well drillers come in and they drilled five holes but we never did find any water so we had to just pull out and leave it,” she said. “I think we’re going to quit because it’s so expensive. We thought maybe we’d wait until next year and try again.”
The ranchers now have to haul water from another well to keep their thirsty cattle going. Evelyn said they haul water two or three times every week, which is a gasoline expense they would rather not deal with, but the cost and uncertainty of drilling more wells in hopes of finding water is not an attractive option, either.
She said she is not the only one with this problem.
“Everybody’s had trouble out here with shot wells. We’ve all known for years that they’re not as strong as they used to be.”
According to Tim Farmer, district supervisor with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, drilling wells can be a risky venture, especially in times of drought.
“You can go in, drill a well and hit good water. You can go in a few hundred yards away and not get any water. It’s kind of a hard thing to pin down,” Farmer said.
Farmer said this year marks a decided return to a drought cycle the region has been experiencing since the district office opened in October 2008. He said last year’s moisture patterns had raised his hopes that maybe the drought was slowly subsiding, but he has dashed that hope now, and when rain doesn’t fall, wells have a hard time replenishing.
“Whenever there’s a point where we’re this far behind as far as rainfall, we get a lot more applications for repair and deepen permits and supplemental wells. That kind of activity increases,” Farmer said. “It’s going to be a terribly dry year. Surface water and groundwater are both affected by the year.”
Lower water levels are also caused by this winter’s lack of snowfall. Farmer said state engineers measure snowpack, or the accumulation of snow in cold and high-altitude areas, to determine how water sources will be affected.
“We go up and measure the depth of the snow and measure what the moisture content was. Those levels were much lower this year,” Farmer said.
Tucumcari residents should not worry about their water supply, according to Franklin McCasland, Arch Hurley Conservancy District manager.
“There’s an abundance of water in that (Entrada) aquifer. Quay County’s 40-year-plan shows that with that aquifer we’ve got enough water to supply the city of Tucumcari and the area with water ... for the next 40 years,” McCasland said. “With the other aquifers ... it depends on the aquifer and how deep your well is. But there are some aquifers that are probably borderline to start with in this drought. This drought has put a hardship on them.”
McCasland said the county is generally in good shape with abundant groundwater and well water sources to draw from, but some areas are not as abundant as others.
“There’s some areas south of town that that entire area’s really hard to find water. It’s deep and it’s real salty,” McCasland said. “So you need to look at the area and the neighbors, the people who would be your potential neighbors, as to what their well is and how deep - the quality of the water and the quantity.”