Lobo aquifer drawdown rate in focus

Water levels have declined significantly since the 1950s, particularly in the areas around Lobo Flats. (Data: TWDB)
Water levels have declined significantly since the 1950s, particularly in the areas around Lobo Flats. (Data: TWDB)

By Lisa Morton

The March 30 special meeting of the Culberson County Groundwater Conservation District (CCGCD) opened with a presentation from District Engineer Dr. Al Blair regarding specific rainfall recharge at Lobo Valley used to calculate Desired Future Conditions (DFC). The Texas Water Development Board requires these statistics as a planning tool for GCDs permits.

The meeting was well attended both in-house and virtually by stakeholders who live in the Lobo area of the water district, including farmers and livestock producers who offered ideas, comments, and concerns for controlling the drawdown rate in the area.

The district has seen some independent conservation efforts from these stakeholders including irrigation changes made by Pecan Grove Farms (PGF) converting flood irrigation to micro sprinklers, a substantial investment by owner Jose “Pepe” Guevara. “I have the same interest in water availability in 50 years as Mr. Wilson, (a domestic well owner adjacent to the pecan grove in Lobo Valley), because I cannot move my trees.”

One of the discussion topics for Lobo water interests is the rate of transfer coming from the origin of the aquifer in adjoining Jeff Davis County and under the management of the Jeff Davis Underground Water Conservation District (JDUWCD). Dr. Blair and GCD staff will be proposing a comprehensive study to the Board of Directors to determine flow and recharge from the area; however, there have been preliminary discussions that reveal a restriction on the rate of transfer from Valentine to Lobo, 20 miles to the south.

Guevara believes one element in the issue of drawdown lies with the development of a major farming operation in the JDUWCD placing producers at a disadvantage. The property in question is owned by Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe and is known as the Chilicote Ranch with a total of 70,461.28 acres. Located in Presidio and Jeff Davis County, the property was developed as a retreat in the late 90’s and houses the tribe’s cattle ranching operation. The Valentine farm operation supervisor could not be reached for comment.

According to water district Attorney Debbie Trejo, any influence the CCGCD might have with an aquifer outside the district boundaries is limited to input from the five-county water districts in Groundwater Management Area 4 (GMA4) which includes Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, Hudspeth, and Brewster counties. An opportunity for public comment on the shared effects of water districts would be at the next GMA4 meeting.

The district needs more monitoring sites on permanent wells to create the best data and well owners are encouraged to participate. GM Webb agrees that in addition to plans and programs for recharge at Lobo the CCGCD may need to take a more holistic look outside the area. “However, it is a matter of remaining fiscally responsible with the local water district and taxpayers,” she added. In an effort to slow down the drawdown, Dr. Blair said that at a minimum, the CCGCD could use 40-plus-year-old existing documentation on farming near Valentine, along with satellite imagery to determine what is going on. At a maximum, the CCGCD could create a computer model. The impact on domestic wells is something Dr. Blair recommended the district look at, because they don’t have the resources to lower their pump or drill a new well, like an agricultural operation might.

Webb will report this information to the board so they can move forward and make decisions about how to best spend district money and what studies should or should not be done to truly satisfy the concerns of stakeholders. The next meeting is scheduled for April 14th at 2:00 p.m.,1300 West Broadway in Van Horn. If you have any questions or concerns please call 432-386-3437 or email Summer Webb at [email protected]