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Irrigation grant, treated wastewater, could benefit Tucumcari science center

TUCUMCARI, N.M. - A lack of irrigation water in the Tucumcari area of eastern New Mexico for the past nine years has left farmers struggling to stay in business and has also left New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari under pressure to maintain its research programs.



Researchers at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari have applied for at $288,000 grant to install two new pivot irrigation systems at the science center. (NMSU photo by Alec Richards)

In an effort to prepare for the time when more irrigation water will be available, researchers at the science center have applied for a $288,000 grant with the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration to install two new center pivot irrigation systems and a pipeline to connect the different cropland areas. The grant is part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The center is also looking into partnering with the City of Tucumcari to use reclaimed wastewater from the Tucumcari Wastewater Treatment Facility for irrigation purposes.

"If we are successful in obtaining that funding," said Rex Kirksey, superintendent of the Tucumcari science center, "and can get the wastewater delivered to the site, then we will be able to conduct irrigated crop and pasture research regardless of the Arch Hurley Conservancy District situation. We will also be able to start looking at the use of treated wastewater for agricultural production and look at a variety of issues that are not dependent on the area's typical water delivery schedule."

The Arch Hurley Conservancy District operates and maintains an irrigation system that is fed by water stored at Conchas Lake.

The City of Tucumcari is holding a public hearing on Sept. 8 to gather input regarding the use of the discharged treated wastewater to help them determine which direction they will lay a treated wastewater pipeline. Kirksey said he will give a presentation at the meeting on the benefits to having the pipeline run toward the science center.

Tucumcari has no groundwater of any magnitude, Kirksey said, meaning many long-term research projects at the science center run the risk of being put on hold or cancelled due to the lack of water. If researchers can obtain funding for the new pivot irrigation systems and can get a pipeline for treated wastewater to the science center, the center could greatly expand its research and Cooperative Extension Service capabilities.

Water could be available at times when it is traditionally not, meaning researchers could look into such things as the effect of winter irrigation on their wheat and alfalfa production, as compared to the typical summer-only irrigation cycle. The center, he said, could also focus energies on evaluating how treated wastewater affects crops and livestock and they could become one of a few research facilities in the country that are able to conduct research studies on the agricultural use of treated wastewater.

"This unique partnership between the City of Tucumcari and NMSU could provide tremendous benefits to municipalities and agricultural producers throughout the Southwest," the superintendent said.

The city is in the process of obtaining a Groundwater Discharge Permit from the New Mexico Environment Department to allow them to discharge up to 1.2 million gallons of reclaimed domestic wastewater a day from the treatment facility.

Kirksey said he is in talks with NMSU administration and Tucumcari officials about the possibility of having a portion of that water dedicated to the science center. He said the center is developing an application to the NMED to use up to 800 acre-feet per year of the reclaimed wastewater. The ultimate decision rests with the city commissioners and the NMED.

The city, Kirksey said, has plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant so that it can, in the future, provide a higher quality reclaimed wastewater that is suitable for irrigation of parks, school yards and urban landscaping. Until then, its use for irrigation is restricted to areas where public access and exposure is restricted.

The public meeting is on Sept. 8, at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall.