Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Living off the Land
Dec. 22, 1998
By JON FULBRIGHT
Red Bluff Dam was built during the mid-1930s to provide
irrigation water to farmers covering four counties over a
stretch 100 miles downstream on the Pecos River.
But now, the gates on the aging dam are in need of
replacement, and to do that, the water tunnels within the
dam have to be drained dry. But while that's being done,
little water will be heading down the Pecos River.
That's why the $1 million plan to replace the dam's two
irrigation tunnel gates with modern jet flow and knife gates
will be done under what representatives of HDR engineering
called "a very tight schedule."
Rich Shoemaker and Ted Campbell of HDR Engineering outlined
the plan to Red Bluff Water Power District board members on
Dec. 14 in Pecos, presenting them with a timetable that
would have the district take bids for the project next
Spring, with the manufacturing of the new gates to follow
over a one-year period between the Summer of 1990 and 2000.
Bids would then be taken for the actual construction work,
and the project would be done during the fall and winter
months of 2000-2001.
Because of the requirements for Spring water releases, and
the problems Red Bluff had several years ago in getting a
low water crossing built across the Pecos River south of the
dam, board members stressed they wanted a construction firm
that could work within the five month time schedule.
"There are contractors around who know how to do this. If
you put in a pre-qualification stipulation in the contract,
you will get people who know how to do it," Shoemaker said.
"We'll start the first part in October or right at the
first part of November," Shoemaker told the board. "Then
when you're ready to start releases in March (of 2001),
they'd have four to five months to complete it."
"It has got to be done by March. We've got to be able to
open those gates by then," said board member Lloyd Goodrich.
In response to a question from board president Randall
Hartman, Shoemaker said "I think it would be feasible" to
work on one half of the project first, in order to assure
least one gate will be completed by the Spring release
The historical plaque on U.S. 285 at the turn-off to Red
Bluff Lake says it was first filled by flood waters in June
of 1937 a year after the dam was completed. Red Bluff Lake
can cover a maximum of 310,000 acre/feet, but in recent
years, the lake hasn't gotten far above 100,000 acre/feet
and after water releases during the growing season, has
dipped as low as 40,000 acre feet.
The original gates lasted 40 years before the roto-valve
control failed in the mid-1970s. A complete replacement
wasn't done then, Goodrich said during last week's meeting,
because the district didn't have the money.
That changed following the $14 million settlement with New
Mexico nine years ago over violations of the 1946 Pecos
River compact. But the board didn't take action on replacing
the gates until this month, after the lone remaining
irrigation tunnel in operation, on the east side of the dam,
wouldn't open due to an electrical problem.
"Until last month I was hoping it would go away, but when I
couldn't get those gates raised it made a Christian out of
me," Red Bluff General Manager Jim Ed Miller said. The
irrigation tunnels are on the lower part of the dam, beneath
the power generation tunnels, which have been abandoned.
Shoemaker said because of the age of the dam and the number
of tunnels, there will be some unknowns about the project
until crews have chance to shut off all water flow to the
irrigation tunnels and see what happens when the concrete is
"There can be problems with reinforced concrete. So one of
the things they have to do is completely check the inlet
tunnels. They need to see if it's safe for people to go up
into them if they are de-watered," he said last week.
However, Shoemaker added on Friday the river itself won't
be completely de-watered south of Red Bluff while the work
is going on.
"There won't be any (water) going through the outflow
tunnels, but there's a lot of seepage going under the dam,"
he said. "Due to the high water table at Red Bluff around
the dam, and Screwbean Draw (the spring that feeds into the
Pecos River just south of Red Bluff) there should be water
Shoemaker added that because of the age of Red Bluff, "The
state water rights permit has no low-flow requirement
written in." A requirement would mandate a certain release
The only possible obstacle there is the federal
government's current review on the status of the Pecos River
pupfish. Red Bluff is fighting an effort by the government
to possibly list the pupfish as an endangered species.
Miller said earlier this year that if that occurred, the
government could mandate increased water releases during
winter months to increase the chances that the pupfish --
which is being hybridized by the Sheepshead minnow -- would
"If that requirement is in when the work starts it might be
a fairly easy job to siphon water over the spillway during
the project," Shoemaker said.
HDR estimated the cost of the project at just over $1
million. That's not a lot compared to the cost of other
major public works projects, but Shoemaker explained that
building gates that are 3 1/2 to four feet wide, and finding
contractors with the experience to install them requires a
lot of advance work.
"There are only two companies in the world that manufacture
the gates, and all the equipment has to be manufactured from
scratch," Shoemaker told the board. The two companies are
located in Massachusetts and Argentina, and the gates
themselves are expected to cost at least $132,000.
Shoemaker said the Argentine firm recently supplied new jet
flow gates to Hoover Dam, and the contractor on that
project, J.R. Jacks of Las Vegas, is "very interested in
hearing about" the Red Bluff rehabilitation project,
Shoemaker said. He added that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
also has a lot of experience in replacing gates in dams
operated by the federal government.
The project is one of three the district is looking at to
improve conditions at Red Bluff Lake. A desalinization
effort involving the diversion of water from a salt spring
just north of the Texas-New Mexico state line could begin
sometime next year, and the board is also seeking approval
to use a herbicide to remove water-hungry salt cedars from
the banks of the Pecos River, which would increase the flow
to farmers downstream.
Snow helps winter crops after summer drought
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
A long, hot summer that just wouldn't quit cast a pall over
cantaloupe and bell pepper crops, spurred cotton maturity
and pushed alfalfa farmers close to the edge.
"It was too dry to even have a good, healthy weed," said
alfalfa farmer Jim Batteas. "There shouldn't be many tumble
weeds blowing around."
Freezing weather held off until Dec. 7, making for a long
cotton-growing season and a completed bell pepper harvest.
But it forced farmers to defoliate cotton, and much of it
arrived at the gin pretty trashy.
Don Kerley, Alamo-Kerley Gin manager, said the cotton grades
were pretty good - except for the trash - and staple length
was "pretty typical" on upland.
Gail Fritter, Coyanosa Co-op manager, said staple length in
that area was comparable to the extra-long staple pima, and
grades are "excellent." She expects to gin 11,800 bales of
upland from 5,900 planted acres.
"The snow (on Dec. 11) slowed us down getting modules out of
the field, but we keep the yard full," Fritter said. "We had
plenty to gin. It hasn't slowed us down a bit."
The co-op had ginned 6,000 bales by the middle of last week,
and Fritter expects to finish up the middle of January.
Kerley said he hopes to shut down the saw and roller gins
about the first of January, weather permitting. He lost four
days to the snow, which hampered moving modules on the yard
to the suction and from the fields to the yard.
He expects to gin 12,000 bales of upland and 3,000 of pima,
about the normal amount. Pima acreage was up this year, but
hail in the Barilla area damaged crops of Sam Miller and
Pima quality was "real good," said Kerley, but "the price is
pretty pathetic on all of them."
The snow helped the onion crop, which is up and growing,
said A.B. Foster. "It looks good. We have some pretty
onions. The snow was good for them; it got everything good
Randy Taylor will have about 1,200 acres of onions next
year. He is the only grower in this area. Pecos Cantaloupe
Company packs some of the onions at a shed on North Hickory
Street and some at the cantaloupe shed on Texas Highway 17.
Heat hurt the yield on Taylor's cantaloupe and bell pepper
crops, Foster said.
"The pepper was the worst because it got so terribly hot
when they were trying to get it up," he said. "We only had
100 acres. Because of the late freeze, they picked all
What peppers did survive the heat grew to a good size and
good quality, Foster said.
Black plastic under cantaloupe vines that normally allow
earlier planting and quicker maturity practically cooked the
sweet fruit this summer with temperatures up to 145 degrees,
"We are not going to use plastic this year," Foster said.
"We may have another hot year. We will use a lot of drip
irrigation on onions and cantaloupe both."
Foster said the snow provided moisture that will get 1999
crops off to a good start. "It really wets the ground, and
most people think there's more nitrogen in snow than in
rain," he said.
Snow also helped the wheat crop, some of which is about a
foot tall and some just emerging.
Trey Miller said he plants wheat as a rotation crop for
"The good thing about the snow was that we had basically
finished harvesting cotton and had a lot of wheat planted,"
Miller said. "It couldn't have come at a better time."
Some growers run cattle on their wheat fields when it is
young and then allow it to mature and harvest the grain for
cattle feed. Miller said he has plans to harvest his crop,
but may graze it.
"I will just have to look at the numbers and see how it
works out," he said.
Several farmers around Balmorhea have planted wheat this
year, either for seed or for cattle feed yards.
"We just run a combine and get the grain (for cattle
feed)," Miller said.
The wheat in this area is not sold for food grains.
Rotating cotton crops with wheat helps keep down weeds,
Miller said. "It is just good for the land."
He farms cotton two years and then plants some small grain
Miller is a cantaloupe and bell pepper salesman during the
summer, but when cotton seed starts to come in to Acid
Delinters, he puts on his management hat and spends the
winter delinting seed.
Jim Batteas may spend the winter looking for a new
occupation, since gophers ruined two of his alfalfa fields
and joined with the heat to damage his crop in a brand-new
field after he moved six miles south.
"it was not a good year," Batteas said. "It was too hot and
dry and windy for alfalfa. Most everyone's production was
down, for the weather and other reasons."
The market was "all right," he said. "It was down some, but
when it is over $100 per ton, we can survive that part of
it. Fuel prices were down some. That helped the farmers."
He said he planted some cotton, "but it didn't pan out
either. I plowed it up."
Alfalfa is Batteas' only crop. He has 150 acres, watered by
a sprinkler irrigation system on a center pivot that travels
in a circle.
He said the snow produced about one inch of moisture.
"It was beautiful. I wouldn't have minded another foot or
Alfalfa goes dormant in winter, but it will come back out
earlier next spring because of the snow, he said.
Farmers always expect to make a better crop next year and
for the market to be good, Foster said.
Amen to that.
By C.W. Roberts,
Reeves-Loving County Extension Agent
December gardening tips
Don't forget to remove bulbs from the refrigerator. If the
bulbs have received 60 hours of chilling or more, they can
be planted during December. The unseasonably warm weather
this year may cause early bulb sprouting in the garden.
This is a great time to begin or add to your compost pile.
Compost leaves that have fallen. To help accelerate the
process, add nitrogen (any form will do), and a small bag of
potting soil or compost from the local nursery or garden
center. This "black gold" will be ready for use in the
Do you want to make cutting from your Christmas cactus?
Wait for it to finish blooming. Select a 4 or 5 joint
section, cut or break it off and insert the base end into
moist potting soil. Place in a bright area and wait 3 to 4
weeks for rooting to occur.
Take advantage of the holiday season and bad weather days
to study seed and nursery catalogues. It won't be long
before fruit trees and pecan trees will be available. Plan a
new garden or expand an existing one.
On good weather days, begin preparing garden beds for
spring planting. Work in organic matter and have beds ready
to plant ahead of time.
When selecting poinsettias, look for tight yellow flower
buds. The red portion is actually called a bract, not a
flower. Poinsettias cannot tolerate cold or rapidly changing
temperatures. Keep the plant where temperatures remain above
60 degrees F. between 65 and 70 degrees is ideal.
Use cutting from your yard to decorate for the holidays.
Always remember to use good pruning techniques when you
remove cutting from plants. Small branches from pine trees
provide greenery and berries form holly or nandina make
beautiful accents in the home.
Plants make wonderful gifts for the holidays. Try a living
Christmas tree this year! Afghan and Pinyon Pines do very
well in our area and make wonderful wind breaks or landscape
Norfolk Island Pines are good small Christmas trees, but
they must be used as house plants and cannot be planted
Don't forget to water your lawn! Dry weather can cause
winter damage to occur.
Ned Cantwell, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 1998 by Pecos Enterprise