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Publication Date

January 1955


State of New Mexico, State Engineer Office, John R. Erickson, State Engineer Prepared in cooperation with the Geological Survey and National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior The flows of Rattlesnake Springs, Blue Spring, and the Black River in the upper Black River valley in southwestern Eddy County, N. Mex., are utilized mostly for irrigation. Part of the water from Rattlesnake Springs also is pumped by the National Park Service for use at the Carlsbad Caverns about 5.5 miles distant. Concern over the possible effects of pumping of recently developed irrigation wells in the area on the surface-water supply prompted an investigation by the U. S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the State Engineer of New Mexico and the National Park Service. The upper Black River valley is bounded on the northwest by the Guadalupe Mountains and along the southeast by hills of low relief which near the State line are called the Yeso Hills. The valley is 4 to 9 miles wide. The Black River, the principal stream, heads in the Guadalupe Mountains. Its course is normally dry in the mountains and across the alluvial fan at the mouth of Black Canyon. A perennial stretch of about 4 miles starts about 4 miles north of the State line. Below this stretch and in a northeastward direction the channel is normally dry for a distance of about 10 miles. From the lower end of the normally dry channel to the Pecos River, a distance of roughly 20 miles, the river has a perennial flow. The chief source of water in the lower perennial stretch of the Black River is Blue Spring. Alluvium, ranging in thickness up to 200 feet, is the principal source for important ground-water supplies in the upper Black River valley. Recharge to the alluvium probably occurs mostly from flood waters originating in the canyons of the bordering Guadalupe Mountains. These flood waters percolate into the alluvium in the canyons and the alluvial fans at the mouths of the canyons. Occasionally, flood waters reach the lower courses of the various draws. Water moves through the alluvium in a general northeastward direction down the valley of Black River. Accretions to the water in the alluvium occur, in part, by movement of water from adjacent shallow water-bearing beds in gypsum of the Castile formation. Recharge to the shallow aquifer in the Castile formation occurs mostly from precipitation in the area of outcrop of the formation. Water in the gypsum has a high calcium sulfate content, and where this water moves into the alluvium it mixes with water of better quality in the alluvium. Thus a progressive increase in mineral content occurs as the water moves through the alluvium down the valley. Irrigation from wells in upper Black River valley reportedly began in 1946 with the irrigation of 18 acres in sec. 3, T. 26 S., r R. 24 E., about 3.5 miles south of Rattlesnake Springs. Further development was slow until 1951. During 1952 approximately 670 acres were being irrigated from wells in the upper valley and a substantial part of the acreage was within 2 miles of Rattlesnake Springs. Wells having yields of as much as 1,300 gallons a minute are developed in the conglomeratic beds in the alluvium. The upper perennial stretch of the Black River extends from sec. 3, T. 26 S., R. 24 E., northward about 4 miles. The river begins to lose water to the underlying alluvium in the lower half mile of this stretch, and the dry-weather flow disappears in the NE sec. 24, T. 25 S., R. 24 E. The maximum dry-weather flow is about 2 to 3 cfs. The average annual discharge of wells in the I area immediately upstream from this perennial stretch is about 0.7 cfs ;estimating about a 3D-percent return from irrigation, the net withdrawal of water is about 0.5 cfs. The effect of this pumping has probably reached the springs at the head of the upper per- [ ennial stretch, about 3.5 miles above Rattlesnake Springs, but it probably will reduce their flow by less than 0.3 cfs in the next few years, if the pumping in the locality is not increased. An [ observed decline in the flow of these headward springs from 1.0 cfs in October to 0.7 cfs in December 1953 probably was caused largely by the continued below-normal recharge resulting from a 50-percent deficiency in normal precipitation during 1951-53. Rattlesnake Springs issues from the alluvium in a developed pool on the flats of Nuevo Canyon Draw in the SW sec. 23, T. 25 S., R. 24 E. The discharge of the springs, as observed from periodic measurements, has ranged between 1.7 and 4.2 cfs, the smaller.flow coinciding with pumping from nearby irrigation wells. The aquifer discharging water at Rattlesnake Springs also is tapped by four irrigation wells. The seasonal discharge from these wells in 1953 was approximately equivalent to the decrease in discharge of Rattlesnake Springs, allowing for some decrease in the spring discharge caused by drought conditions. An increase in the pumpage from these wells or the development of additional wells in the locality southwest from Rattlesnake Springs would result in further decline [ in the flow of the springs, and the springs might cease to flow near the end of the irrigation season. Blue Spring, in the NW sec. 33, T. 24 S., R. 26 E., with a ldischarge of approximately 12 cfs, probably is the principal discharge point for the water in the alluvium in the Black River valley westward from Blue Spring. The present average net diversion of ground water caused by pumping of irrigation wells in upper Black River valley is of the order of 1 cfs. This should result in a decline in the flow of Blue Spring of approximately this amount within a few months or several years, depending upon whether the water occurs under water-table conditions in fairly open chahnels or under artesian conditions. Open Access See Extended description for more information.


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