A local couple has asked the state for help with the problem of falling well levels southwest of Las Vegas — a problem residents there blame on city water pumping.
But the state engineer’s office, which handles water issues, told the couple that the state can do little about the problem.
Jack and Betty Thompson, who have lived in Ojitos Frios since 1992, told the state in an e-mail that they have seen their well level drop by one foot a week since the city resumed pumping at Taylor Wells in April.
“Someone with authority needs to look at this situation and come up with a plan that will help the city find water resources other than the Taylor Well field. Lawyers don’t solve the problem,” the couple stated in the Oct. 3 e-mail.
The city pumps Taylor Wells, whose water rights date back to the 1950s, to supplement the water it diverts from the Gallinas River, Las Vegas’ main source.
A few years ago, the city monitored wells near Taylor Wells at its own expense in response to concerns from residents in Ojitos Frios, Romeroville, Sheridan and other communities southwest of town.
But within the last year, the city stopped the monitoring.
City Manager John Avila said Tuesday that the city stopped the monitoring when the Thompsons filed a lawsuit over the situation.
“We were doing it for goodwill, and the goodwill was broken,” he said. “As far as the city is concerned, we do take everyone’s concerns into consideration.”
The city has long argued that it doesn’t cause the dropping well levels. It maintains that the levels drop because of the amount of precipitation, not the pumping at Taylor Wells. It also contends that its water rights date back to the 1950s, while many of the residents got their wells in the late 1970s and after. Senior water rights take priority in New Mexico.
“We have water rights that we’re using, and it’s for the benefit of the city — to make sure the city has enough water supply,” Avila said.
The city’s water utility serves nearly 20,000 people. In recent years, it has been looking for more water rights to expand its supply for drought years.
Earlier this decade, the city renovated Taylor Well No. 4, which hadn’t been used much in the years before. This year, a federal agency reported that it hit water for Taylor Well No. 7, but Avila said the city has yet to get a permit from the state engineer’s office to start pumping at that well.
The city has been pumping more than a half million gallons of water most days at Taylor Wells.
An official with the state engineer’s office said she is sympathetic with the residents’ plight, but that there is little her office can do to help.
“We understand that since the filing of your lawsuit against the city that the well-monitoring program has not been continued,” Jerri Trujillo, manager of the upper Pecos and Tucumcari basins, said in an e-mail. “That is unfortunate as consistent monitoring is necessary in your efforts to build your case of personal property damage.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Trujillo said she thought the well-monitoring program was handled by the residents, not the city. But she said she wasn’t allowed to speak further with the media, referring questions to Karin Stangl, the agency’s spokeswoman, who promised an interview with another official today.
Jack Thompson said the homeowners have kept up the measuring since the city dropped its program, and the residents have discovered continued declining water levels.
He said he and his wife have dropped the lawsuit but that the city still hasn’t resumed the monitoring.
“This is a city-county-state-federal issue. That’s a lot of people with education and titles,” they said in their e-mail. “This water problem will eventually touch all of us.”