2017-09-20, Phil King, NMSU Civil Engineering, EBID consultant

Although they came for lunch, President Lya Jordan and Jay headed for a long trip before the meeting began, so President-elect Kristi Granados presided.  After Lyn Ames’ invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, past president Wanda Mattiace introduced Cheryl Fallstead and Chas Miller from the Las Cruces Ukes to lead the song with their ukuleles.  They led us in singing “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You),” then gave an encore at Jim Scott’s request, “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams.  


Kristi introduced several visiting Rotarians, including two of ten in Las Cruces on a Rotary Friendship Exchange from New Zealand:  Mervyn Kite, a wool trader, and Jim Clark, a kiwi fruit grower.  Mary Lee Shelton invited us to the golf tournament her Juárez Campestre Rotary club is sponsoring at the Juárez Campestre country club.  After guests of Rotarians and our high school students-of-the-month were introduced, we had a chance to meet and greet each other.  Patty Groth was again the mystery greeter. 

There were plenty of happy dollars.  President Lya left some “cash for her dash.”  Patty, wearing her UTEP colors (???), was happy for a big turnout.  John Hernández was “mighty glad to be here.”  Mel Parish was pleased that Texas Tech is still undefeated.  Charlotte and Gary are just back from the mustang show in Fort Worth.  John Pickett informed us that only 35 seats remain for the Dress the Child dinner, October 1 at the Grapevine.  Contact him for $60 reservations, or to contribute a $100 gift card to clothe a child for the holidays; we plan to clothe at least 20 middle schoolers from Picacho, more if we can.  Bill Harty noted that the rivalry week sweep of UTEP started with the prior night’s volleyball match. 

The Program

Gary Esslinger introduced our third speaker in this month’s series on water (thanks Gary for an informative and educational program series!), Dr. Phil King of NMSU’s Civil Engineering department, who also serves as the engineering and hydrology advisor for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID).  Dr. King started by saying there would be no PowerPoint today.  His goal was to present a broader view of the Mesilla Valley water situation, rather than the specifics discussed in the prior two weeks. 

Dr. King began with a couple of definitions:  (1) The Rio Grande Project was authorized by Congress in 1905 and came online in 1916 with the Elephant Butte Dam.  The project provides surface irrigation water to the region below the dam extending to Fort Quitman, Texas.  The project brings water to New Mexico and Texas farmers, as well as delivering a certain amount of Rio Grande water to Mexico.  (2) The Rio Grande Compact is a legal agreement among Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas allocating Rio Grande water among the states based on gauged stream flows in Rio Grande tributaries.  The allocation to Texas begins at the Elephant Butte Dam, so we southern New Mexicans are considered “Compact Texans.” 

There have been significant changes in water use since the 1938 compact.  In 1938, there was no ground water use for any purpose in our area.  A severe drought in 1951 caused farmers to drill wells to cover shortfalls in ground water availability.  There has been a growing realization that the two water sources are really one, as 95% of aquifer recharge in the Rincon/Palomas and Mesilla Bolsons comes from surface water.  In the 80’s and 90’s, there was a full supply of ground water every year, and agriculture changed from predominantly cotton and chile to include more pecans, alfalfa, and multi-cropping (growing two crops in a single growing season).  As more water was used in New Mexico, less was being delivered to Texas. 

In 1938, domestic and commercial water use was negligible.  Now the City of Las Cruces alone uses 18,000 acre-feet per year.  Roughly half of that water returns to the river from treatment plants, so the other half is being used for landscaping and swamp coolers. 

Dr. King next discussed current water issues, reminding us that whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.  Texas began to complain about upstream depletion of their ground water source.  As a young professor, he became involved in 1998 negotiations “going to settle this.”  When John Hernández heard about this, he tried to moderate Dr. King’s expectations, telling him it would take ten years to get to a settlement.  In nine-and-a-half years, an agreement was reached giving Texas 43% of the river flow, and requiring them to leave New Mexico ground water alone.  This ran for six years (roughly 2012) before Gary King sued EBID, El Paso Water District #1, and the Bureau of Reclamation alleging New Mexico was not getting its 57%. 

This case is now in the U. S. Supreme Court, Texas v New Mexico, Colorado, etc.  There is considerable dispute about the allocation of ground water delivered by the New Mexico State Engineer to Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs and the appropriation of that ground water.  The Federal government has also intervened in the suit, alleging that New Mexico is interfering with the Rio Grande Project.  Precedents seem to go against New Mexico’s position.  The current 3.3 million acre-foot shortfall in groundwater deliver to Texas valued at $300/acre-foot could produce damages of $1 billion! 

Lower Rio Grande users (lower in New Mexico) are proposing ways to guarantee Texas gets its water, taking the steps we have heard about in the prior two weeks to capture storm water and make changes within the Rio Grande project, having municipal and industrial users pay farmers to fallow some of their acreage.  It is not possible for communities and businesses to “fallow” and use no water in a year; some agricultural users have similar situations, as pecans cannot be fallowed either.  These will affect future water deliveries, but how the past accumulation of shortfalls during drought years will be determined by the Court. 

After the Program

We raised $71 for our club project.  One of our New Zealand visiting Rotarians drew Patty’s ticket #937.  She chose the six of spades, so the odds of winning continue to increase.  President-elect Kristi led the Four-Way Test to conclude the meeting.  

<prior week   following week>

Guests of Rotarians



Robert Faubion

Gary Esslinger

Isobel Hernandez

John Hernandez

Gonzalo Soto

John Hernandez

Michelle Pickett

Wanda Mattiace

Cheryl Fallstead, Las Cruces Ukes


Chas Miller, Las Cruces Ukes


Visiting Rotarians


Home Club

Jim Clark

Te Puke, New Zealand

Mervyn Kite

Taradale, New Zealand

Don Buck

Rio Grande

Mary Lee Shelton

Juarez Campestre

Student Guests



Jared Brown


Garrison Bush




Date Club




Submitted by Bill HartyBill Harty