Updated: Wednesday, 30 Nov 2011, 3:01 PM MST
Published : Tuesday, 22 Nov 2011, 5:20 PM MST
ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) - It's been a rough year for farmers in southeastern New Mexico, and it could be even rougher in the future.
Every five years, farmers there are only allowed so much water, and that five years is now up.
This month water in the Pecos Valley was once again divvied up between farmers for the next five years. But starting fresh after this year will be tough.
"It's been extremely challenging this year; it's not often that we have a drought in the fifth year of our five for water usage," explained Roswell farmer Doug Whitney. "And that makes it very difficult to try to balance if you've overused in the previous years, you have to try to make it up this year."
Whitney farms nearly 1,000 acres in the Pecos Valley. He said no one could have predicted how much the drought affected water usage this year.
For every acre of land a farmer owns, he gets3 1/2 acre feet of water per year, which translates to more than 325,000 gallons of water. To put it in perspective, water conservancy officials said the average household uses 100,000 gallons a year.
"There is no more water to be appropriated, so that means that if I were using more water than I had a right to, I had to go find somebody that was willing to sell me some water," Superintendent Aron Balok of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District said.
Not only would a farmer have to find someone with extra water, but it would have to be transferable to his property. Many farmers had to make adjustments due to the drought.
"We've had to shut down a lot of our alfalfa production because we've had to turn the sprinklers off to keep from going too far over on our water use," Whitney said. That cut his hay production by nearly 45 percent this year, he added.
But every gallon a farmer goes over in his water usage has to be paid back in water twice as much the next five-year water cycle.
"If Mother Nature doesn't balance her side, we can't balance ours," Whitney said. So far, farmers in the Pecos Valley have been able to make it work.
"I think that's what they'll probably keep doing is find a way to make it work, and they'll continue to grow more for the many with less," Balok said.
The Pecos Valley water usage relies heavily on what comes from the mountains in Ruidoso, so if there's not a lot of snow-pack this winter, there won't be a lot of irrigation water come spring.