High Plains Ogallala Aquifer Study, New Mexico
A large area of eastern New Mexico overlies a vast underground reserve of water, mainly from the Ogallala aquifer. The area is considered part of the High Plains region which extends over portions of six states. The utilization of these large water reserves has led to substantial economic growth, primarily growth in agriculture. However, this growth has placed a greater demand on the ground water and water levels have begun to decline.
New Mexico participated with five other High Plains states and the High Plains Associates in the Six-State High Plains-Ogallala Aquifer Area Study. The purpose of this study was to estimate the economic impacts of rapidly rising energy costs and the declining Ogallala aquifer water tables over a 40-year planning horizon.
Four management strategies including a baseline, voluntary water conservation, mandatory irrigation water supply reduction, and interstate importation were evaluated.
The findings of this study suggest that a continuation of current water management policies in eastern New Mexico will lead to large reductions in irrigated acreage and agricultural employment while regional income increases significantly. These effects would be most marked in the southern part of New Mexico’s High Plains. Policies to control present water demands would significantly ameliorate these effects. A voluntary irrigation limitation program would be more beneficial than a mandatory one.
The Southern High Plains has been a major oil and gas producing area in the United States. However, by 2020, crude oil and natural gas production is expected to be about 1/lOth of the 1980 production. This will extenuate the impact on the economy of the Southern High Plains.