City may lease excess water

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In a time of “severe” and “extreme” drought, according to the National Drought Mitigatino Center, the city of Socorro actually is swimming in its own surplus water rights.

City officials announced that while Socorro operates with about 1,100 to 1,200 acre-feet of water per year, the city owns just more than 2,000 acre-feet of water rights.

One acre-foot is equal to about 328,000 gallons of water.

Lloyd Martinez, city water department director, said there could be as much as 500 acre-feet the city could lease. The city would still want to retain a buffer amount of water rights in case of emergencies. Socorro City Clerk and Manager Pat Salome said selling the water rights off would probably not be the best idea either.

Because of New Mexico’s current scarcity of water in other parts of the state, it can be difficult to acquire rights. Some water rights can be as expensive as $12,000 per acre-foot, according to a 2012 University of New Mexico study, “Water Marketing in New Mexico.”

Lease rates would be based off current market averages at the time the city makes a decision. Nothing is official yet, and Salome said it will take some additional canvassing to see how much water the city actually owns.

“The water rights are available, and the three things that we’re really strong in is water, land and the people who work here,” Salome said, adding because of the land grants that date back to the mid-1800s. The springs in the area and the way in which the city was developed helped and still helps Socorro strengthen its claim to water.

“If we have (water rights), we feel like putting them into play is probably the right thing to do,” Salome said, adding he would like to see the rights be leased by local farmers and entities that could benefit from them. “On the other hand, not leasing them and not putting them into play means you have an asset that you’re not using.”

Water rights can still be leased across the state from different areas. The amount of water used in New Mexico is monitored by the Office of the State Engineer.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to need (the excess water) at some point; we don’t need it right now,” Salome said. “There’s still a little work that needs to be done – making sure the water rights we have on record are solid because these are things that could go on for years without any activity.”

The funds from the water rights leasing, if the city chooses to do so, would most likely go into the water rights reserve fund, although ultimately, Salome said, that would be decided by how the city enacts the leases.

“We’re in a financial position to look at where we are and what we have and make some good decisions about the water we have, whether we use it or decide to lease it or decide not to least it,” he said.