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Know the West

Farmers and ranchers say city is stealing water

  Steel pumps and filter towers may soon rise from the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico — and that has a small agricultural community seriously concerned.

The growing city of Alamogordo wants to draw water from deep within the Tularosa Basin aquifer. But that water is salty. To make it drinkable, the city plans to process it through a $30 million reverse osmosis desalination facility. Last December, the state engineer’s office, which administers New Mexico’s water resources, gave Alamogordo permission to drill 10 wells and take 3,000 acre-feet of water per year from the aquifer.

In the nearby village of Tularosa, that decision has farmers and ranchers worried that their own wells may run dry. According to Dan Abercrombie of the Tularosa Community Ditch Corporation, the state engineer’s office overestimated the amount of water the city could take before seriously impacting the aquifer. Tularosa residents are also concerned that if the desalination project succeeds, Alamogordo may take even more water in the future.

"It’s wrong for one community to go around another to develop its water supply," Abercrombie says, "instead of going where it wouldn’t harm others."

Two Tularosa ranchers and the community ditch corporation are appealing the permit in state court. A decision is expected early next year.