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The city of Clovis, New Mexico, is taking an innovative approach to ensuring its future water supply — playa conservation. And what this city of 38,000 is doing might become a model for other municipalities on the High Plains. The city government put a million dollars of economic development funds toward playa conservation. Most immediately they’re doing a stormwater runoff project to fill playa lakes. Longer range, Clovis city officials are talking with adjacent landowners and ag producers about rehabbing those playas, and obtaining water rights.
“The farmer is converting to dryland farming, enhancing their playa lake recharge and getting a long-term agreement to save that water for municipal and industrial use.”
Clovis mayor David Lansford, who told me cattle feedlots came in decades ago. But more recently the region’s seen huge dairy farms established. It’s lucrative for local producers to grow forage for those milk cows.
“We can only wait so long to start implementing conservation methods outside the city where the water is being mined aggressively. Eighty-five or ninety percent of the water in Curry County is used to put on crops, and the rate that is going is unsustainable by a long shot.”
Lansford says in the county, there are 10 to 15 ag producers who understand their water supply will be critical for Clovis and the adjacent Cannon Air Force Base.
“They don’t want to be the ones that ran the well dry. They are community minded people. They understand and care about the survival and sustainability of Curry County’s economy.”
The challenge is finding a way to compensate those producers for going dryland.
“They’re going to participate as long as it makes business sense. They aren’t going to go along with $100, let’s say, when they can make $500. That doesn’t make any sense.”
One Clovis neighbor is rancher Vincent de Maio.
“The idea that we retire some water closer to the city is certainly the first step they want to take. I see it as a much bigger project, and I see it much more extensive. I see the Clovis area as really being the model going forward, because what’s happening here is happening in west Texas, is happening in Kansas and Nebraska, all the way across the Ogallala.”
Mayor Landsford understands playas recharge the aquifer the city pulls its water from, and Clovis has playas in town. One project Clovis is pursuing diverts storm runoff into those lakes “as opposed to running them down the bar ditches and onto the highway.”
Then find methods, engineering, land- and vegetation-management methods that return playas to their natural functioning form.
“And then divert that water into those playa lakes and create not only a recharge funnel for the aquifer, but create a habitat for wildlife and various living species.”
Ken Rainwater’s a water-resources engineer at Texas Tech. He’s involved with the consulting firm doing the Clovis drainage master plan.
“As the stormwater runs through the city of Clovis, the flow paths are controlled by where the playa lakes are. Part of my job is to work with the information they’ve gathered to try to get an idea about how the playas behave during and between storms.”
Mike Carter is Playa Lakes Joint Venture coordinator. This project to capture storm runoff and send it into playas, Mike says that’s new and innovative thinking.
“If you triple the amount of water going into a playa by diverting runoff that’s doing damage to roads anyway and then you do it with sediment buffers so that you don’t do damage to the playa, you could be looking at a situation where you’re tripling the amount of recharge. That’s exactly the kind of solution that we’re looking for. That’s brilliant thinking.”
Playa Country, which ended in late 2016, was a weekly show that featured conservation and wildlife experts — as well as farmers, ranchers and land managers — talking about conservation practices that improve wildlife habitat and landowners’ bottom-line. This episode of Playa Country was made possible by a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society, with support provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.