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Editor's Note - Northeast New Mexico

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By Tom McDonald

Included in Friday’s Optic, and distributed throughout an area we call home, was a special section titled, “Northeast New Mexico: Challenges and opportunities facing a seven-county region.”

If you haven’t looked at it yet, I encourage you to do so. And if you somehow missed it, come by the Optic and we’ll give you one.

We timed the special section — with the help of Pete Campos, state senator and Luna Community College president, and Richard Trujillo, community liaison for the State Engineer’s Office — to come out just before a regional water symposium being held this Tuesday at Luna.

The hope is that the special section’s content will contribute to some good discussion, because when it comes to this area of the state, we have a lot more in common than differences. Most of the our communities struggle with water issues, economic development and population declines.

Northeastern New Mexico includes the counties of Colfax (with Raton as its county seat); Guadalupe (Santa Rosa), Harding (Mosquero), Mora (Mora), Quay (Tucumcari), San Miguel (Las Vegas) and Union (Clayton). Altogether the area makes up 18 percent of New Mexico’s land mass, it has only 3.2 percent of the state’s population.

Moreover, between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census, there’s been a 3.46 percent drop in our region’s population. That’s a little worse than San Miguel County’s population decline, which was 2.43 percent over the same period of time.

Of course, a whole lot of the region’s problems stem from water, or the lack of, though that’s not the case everywhere. Raton and Santa Rosa each have abundant water supplies. Raton did some great planning ahead and now sits on ample primary and secondary surface water supplies. Santa Rosa’s supply is groundwater, enough to attract a commercial fish hatchery as a boost to the local economy there.

Of course, everyone’s suffering from a prolonged drought, with varying degrees of impact on community water systems, ranching and domestic wells.

Clayton, up in the far northeastern corner of the state, draws from the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which sits underneath parts of eight states, but it’s being depleted at an alarming pace. And Tucumcari, which draws its water primarily from the Tucumcari Basin (near the Ogallala), is also seeing its groundwater supply diminishing.

Interestingly, Tucumcari has a secondary supply available, Ute Lake, but Clovis and Portales, two cities south of Tucumcari with a combined population surpassing 60,000, are trying to get a pipeline built from Ute Lake to feed into their supplies.

Then there’s ranching, a staple in northeastern New Mexico’s economy; it’s really taking a beating. In sparsely populated Harding County, I was told, some ranchers are going out of state to buy hay. That’s not unique to that one county — it’s happening all over the region.

As for Las Vegas, it’s in a perilous circumstance water-wise, and yet it’s the biggest city, in the biggest county, in the region. Clearly, the Meadow City could benefit from a regional investment in, say, a desalination facility and a massive pipeline project to deliver its water. Desal, if you don’t already know, can be an extremely expensive proposition.

But the region needs Las Vegas too. There are a lot of resources here — political, economic, educational — necessary for an area-wide strategy to be effective. If a regional alliance were to be formed, thereby adding muscle to any lobbying efforts in Santa Fe and Washington D.C., I’d say it will have to begin in Vegas.

Obviously I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796 or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.