Two Nations, One Aquifer: ‘I am going to be out of water’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

This is the last in the Journal’s five-part series about the growing demand for groundwater on both sides of New Mexico’s border with Mexico. The previous stories have focused on the impact on New Mexico when Ciudad Juárez started pumping water from the Mesilla Bolson, the giant aquifer that straddles the border. Today’s story, which concludes the series, is a snapshot of a New Mexico rancher whose private water pumps compete with those of Mexican farmers along the Bootheel outside the Mesilla Bolson. But the issue is the same – no agreements govern binational use of groundwater, which means, once again, the biggest straw wins. Previous stories were published on June 25 and July 2-4.


FIFTH IN A SERIES

U.S.-MEXICAN BORDER – As binational water controversies go, this one may matter to only two people: an American rancher and a Mexican farmer.

More to the point: It may matter only to the one most likely to get hung out to dry.

It was a warm February day when rancher William Hurt, who grazes cattle in New Mexico’s Bootheel, came upon the 75-foot drilling rig just over the border on the Mexican side. He pulled his big diesel truck over and ambled up to the barbed-wire border fence that runs north-south on the eastern side of New Mexico’s Bootheel.

He had heard from a ranch hand about the rig, that it had drilled down 1,000 feet in search of water. But this was the first time Hurt saw it up close.

Mennonite David Fehr, a tall, English-speaking man, came up to the fence. Not his farm, he said, but it was his rig. Hired to drill, he was now 1,500 feet down, he said.

The land – covered in brush and grass on the U.S. side – had been plowed flat in Mexico to the edge of low mountain ranges, in preparation for the crops that would be planted. Hurt amiably chatted with Fehr and then climbed back in his diesel truck.

“If they’re going to 1,500 feet, I am going to be out of water,” Hurt said.

There is no treaty between the U.S. and Mexico governing groundwater. The international line is only a superficial barrier. Whichever side sticks a straw in the deepest and drinks it up the fastest gets the water, as hydrogeologist Alfredo Granados-Olivas at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez explained later.

Back in Hurt’s truck, the reporter asked: Is there any recourse for you?

“Not that I know of,” he said.

Three months later, farmer Pedro Suderman rode his big diesel truck out to a field on the Mexican side. A team of migrant workers was clearing stones from the dirt under the hot May sun.

Where the rig had been, a well purred loudly as it pumped a thousand gallons per minute onto a field combed neatly into rows. Onions would go in soon, Suderman said. He pointed out the water-saving drip irrigation system he recently installed on half his fields, which are leased from local communal landholders.

“The closer to the border, the deeper you have to go to reach water,” he said. “About 5 kilometers (3 miles) in, the water is closer to the surface.”

Drilling a water well that deep “is expensive,” he said. “But a man has to work and there is really nothing else to do. It’s the only way.”

Inevitably, farms use more water than a ranch ever could.

Hurt runs comparatively tiny wells that fill watering holes for his cattle that come to drink, at a rate of 5 gallons per minute.

The Mennonite community to which Suderman belongs has grown from about two dozen families at El Camello, Mexico, to 90 families over the past 20 years. They cultivate thousands of desert acres, growing wheat, alfalfa, green and red chile, and onions.

“They’re farming this just like miners come in and mine – all they can, for all they can get, no consideration given,” Hurt said. “Ranchers used to be called miners, when they’d just graze the country into the ground, leave nothing and move on. That is what they are doing here with these farms. They are gonna run out of water here, too.”


This report was produced in partnership with the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

 

Share Your Story

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango


taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Caja del Rio energizes us culturally and environmentally
ABQnews Seeker
Humility, responsibility and selflessness. Religious or ... Humility, responsibility and selflessness. Religious or not, one can easily recognize the importance ...
2
TOP OF MIND: Should Bernalillo County and the city ...
ABQnews Seeker
This week's question: Since the president ... This week's question: Since the president has mandated vaccines for federal workers, contractors, military and private businesses of 100 or more, should Bernalillo County ...
3
Hot commodity: Hatch vaulted New Mexico chile to the ...
ABQnews Seeker
T he sound echoes like drums ... T he sound echoes like drums across the field, as green chile peppers – thick, ripe and heav ...
4
Recall effort against Cowboys for Trump founder falls behind
ABQnews Seeker
Organizers say they are about 400 ... Organizers say they are about 400 signatures short of the 1,574 needed
5
Roommate arrested after ABQ woman is set on fire
ABQnews Seeker
Victim was doused with gasoline, is ... Victim was doused with gasoline, is flown to burn center in Lubbock
6
APD: Drugs could be linked to fatal crash
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque police say narcotics appear to ... Albuquerque police say narcotics appear to be a factor in a Friday night crash on East ...
7
Face to Face with JoAnn Mitchell: MAS Charter School ...
ABQnews Seeker
Structure, hard work keys to success ... Structure, hard work keys to success with kids born into poverty
8
Chimayó chile a symbol of the Southwest
ABQnews Seeker
Along the rugged foothills of the ... Along the rugged foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains is a crescent-shaped valley, carved wit ...
9
In a tough season, manager Schaeffer has steadied the ...
ABQnews Seeker
Luis Barrera legged out an infield ... Luis Barrera legged out an infield single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Aug. 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada. ...