State plans to measure water use

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By David Giuliani

New measuring stations on the Gallinas River should give the state a better handle on how much water acequias are using, officials say.

It’s been a slow process, but the state engineer’s office has entered agreements with 11 of 12 area Las Vegas-area acequias — community ditch organizations — to allow the installation of state-funded measuring stations to tabulate water use.

As it stands, the state has been relying on staff gauges, which look like rulers, to measure what each acequia is using. But such a system is far from reliable because it requires people to go out and take the readings, officials said.

With the measuring stations, the state can access the information remotely. And eventually, the state would like information from the stations to go on the Internet automatically, as has been done in other areas, said Luis Pedro Aguirre, who is the Gallinas River water master.

The state engineer’s office held a more than two hour meeting at Luna Community College this week to discuss various issues related to the river, in which more than 80 people attended. The office made available Aguirre’s annual report on its Internet site recently.

The report was critical of the acequias’ current practices.

Aguirre wrote that only two mayordomos, or ditch managers, regularly notified the water master about when they opened or closed their headgates during the irrigation season.

“Most of the acequias are poorly maintained with leaky or non-existent headgates,” Aguirre’s report states. “Major improvements are required at their points of diversion and distribution systems. The overall management of the acequias is poor.”

The report further states that a number of acequias leave their headgates open for convenience or for livestock use.

Gabe Estrada, a board member for the Rio Gallinas Acequias Association, said the ditch organizations need help with infrastructure.

“Our mayordomos are doing a tremendous job with what they have,” he said.

During the meeting, Aguirre asked representatives from acequias to let him know when they opened and closed their headgates. He said he planned to make more phone calls this year to make sure every acequia gets its fair share of water.

The state engineer’s office is still sending packets to residents about their water rights and asking them to show whether they have used those rights. It’s part of a court-mandated process to divvy up the river’s water.

Estrada asked why people in subdivisions and even a restaurant on Mills Avenue were getting packets when they don’t use water from the Gallinas River.

Ann Carter, an attorney with the state engineer’s office, said those getting packets have water rights historically attached to their land. But she said they would have to show they have continuously used those water rights over the years. If they can’t, they will lose them, she said.

“I’m sure many people are asking, ‘Why are they bothering me with all this paperwork?’” Carter said, but she said the state needed to determine the status of water rights.