Our Water Matters

Monitoring the health of our aquifers – one well at a time

The Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District has been setting up a groundwater monitoring system in wells throughout the county for several years now. The goal is to equip as many wells as possible with sensors to monitor water levels and gain a better understanding of aquifer health over time (at no cost to well owners). 

In the interest of informing the public about well monitoring, “Our Water Matters” will be presenting profiles of landowners whose wells the district is monitoring. They come from all walks of life and serve as examples of what other landowners may choose to do.

David Williams, a fifth generation rancher in Presidio County, is serious about conservation. In addition to his service on the board of directors of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District, Williams laughed that he has been on the NRCS Soil and Water Conservation District Board “for so many years, I can’t even remember.” He also served previously on the Agricultural Advisory Board of the Presidio County Appraisal District and the Chihuahuan Desert Resource Conservation and Development Council. He and his wife, Presidio County Tax Assessor Natalia Williams, are very active in the community. So, it’s no surprise that he has a monitoring system installed in a well on his maternal great-grandfather’s homestead, the Mellard Ranch, south of Marfa.

Williams grew up on the Mellard Ranch and attended Marfa schools in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. He and the other ranch kids would ride the “school bus that went all the way to Redford.” He recalled that the bus driver lived in Redford and would pick up the 10-12 kids from Shafter and other places along the route and take them to school in town. Williams always figured he would be a rancher. It was “all I thought I was going to do.” A natural mechanic, Williams developed the many skills a rancher needs by working on tractors, windmills and “anything else that needs fixing.” For the past 30 years, Williams has managed the MacGuire Ranch east of Marfa, in addition to tending to his own herds and land.

When asked why he decided to have his well monitored, he stated that “Part of it is … in this drought that we’re having, we have a lot of wells that are going dry.” He sees monitoring as a way to understand what’s happening so he can prepare. “If we don’t have water, we don’t have anything in this country.” The only problem he sees is when you have to service the well “because you have to pull the monitoring equipment first.” But he felt confident that well servicers in the area could be trained and made aware that they need to “pull the monitor first, before they pull the well.”

As a board member of the groundwater district, Williams is firm about the need to provide the monitoring data to the ranchers. If wells go dry on a ranch, the monitoring data can help ranchers understand how their monitored wells are doing “hopefully before they go dry,” he said. Williams is also looking forward to when the district will have funding from the United States Geological Survey, perhaps as early as next year, to conduct water quality testing on his well. It’s important to him to build up the “historic data” about “what the water was like before” so that we “have something to stand on” in the future if our water is adversely affected by new development. Landowners who allow the district to monitor their wells will be eligible to receive their annual water-quality results at no cost, as well as their water level data at regular intervals.

Williams feels that other ranchers should consider allowing the district to monitor their wells because “I think it would benefit them.” He is aware of the privacy concerns that many folks have. But he believes that “while someone will be accessing your property, it’s done with respect for your privacy.” The district handles all landowner data in strictest confidence.

Landowners interested in learning more about having their wells monitored should contact General Manager Ari Stallard at 432.295.2568 or email her at [email protected] 

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as board chairman of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He earns his living as a translator of technical documents from German to English for the German and Swiss pharmaceutical and medical-science industries. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]