Cattle herds are shrinking in the United States due to a number of reasons: higher feed and fertilizer costs; less available pasture land; higher fuel costs; fewer cattle producers. But in states like Texas and New Mexico the problem is compounded by the availability of water. Drought in these two states has taken a serious toll on cattle producers. But there is financial assistance available to livestock producers wanting to drill a water well. The program is called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP is a voluntary program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). It provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers whose application is evaluated and selected on a competitive basis. The assistance, through a contractual agreement, is to provide assistance in the implementation of a wide range of NRCS approved conservation practices to mitigate natural resource concerns, such as soil erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat and more.

Why Are So Many Cattle Producers Not Aware of the EQIP Program?
Are New Mexico well drillers and Texas well drillers aware of this financial assistance and do they pass it on to their potential clients? If not, why not? While some farmers/ranchers/cattle producers have taken advantage of this program, many are not aware of it. The USDA claims it advertises EQIP “as often as it can through TV, Radio, newspapers, newsletters, farmer, rancher and commodity groups and every other way imaginable”. But some in the department privately admit they fail miserably in getting the word out. Water wells are a payment conservation practice in Texas and New Mexico which means it qualifies for financial assistance. The program does not pay for irrigation wells – only for livestock watering wells. The web site in Texas explains the EQIP program. The one for New Mexico can be found at Whether it’s Texas or New Mexico, each state will prioritize and pay differently on conservation practices. For that matter, the five zones in Texas will vary slightly because of landscape, land use, and priorities. However, it is consistent with the practices offered for payment across the state. Payment schedules for each of the five zones can be found at Incidentally, the “HU” stands for historically underserved and has a higher payment rate. HU producers are typically minorities or other groups of people that traditionally have not participated in USDA programs.

How Much Will the Gov’t Pay to Drill Your Well?
EQIP does not pay for 100% of well construction, but 75%-90% of the drilling costs can be recouped. By law, if the USDA suspects that their payment will exceed 75% of the cost for a regular applicant or 90% for a Historically Underserved participant, it will cap the payment at the appropriate percentage rate. By law, it cannot exceed these limits. Again, in Texas and New Mexico this practice is limited to livestock wells, not irrigation. NRCS in other states may be providing financial assistance for irrigation wells. The amount of financial assistance provided by NRCS can vary from state to state. And no matter which state it is, producers must complete an application and submit it to their local NRCS office. Funding is limited for this program and is set by Congress through the Farm Bill. In 2010 Congress appropriated $1.25 billion for the program and Texas received $62 million to share between 254 counties. As of this writing the 2011 budget is unknown. Be advised that the program usually runs out of money towards the end of summer. There is a fixed amount of money and when it’s gone, it’s gone. In the summer of 2010 Texas had a $27 million backlog of applications. Everyone is encouraged to apply and the sign-up period is continuously open – you can apply anytime at your local field office. The Fed’s fiscal year ends on September 30, and then the USDA-NRCS will receive another allocation depending on what the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) wants to provide the program. People that apply before the new allocated funds reach local offices have their applications placed “on hold” until the new funding is received and then those applications are reevaluated and the highest priorities receive funding. Eligibility for the programs under this Farm Bill require that applicants’ adjusted gross income (AGI) be less than $1 million, unless 67% of that comes from on-farm sources. Applicants must have control of the land for the duration of the contract, and be Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation compliant. Then there is paperwork and forms needed to prove this information and the eligibility determination time depends largely on the applicant. When he or she provides the proper documentation to prove they are eligible, the process doesn’t take but a day if they have participated before. If not, it could take up to two weeks. Contracts are awarded on a competitive basis. Periodic ranking deadlines are established locally and depend on the number of applicants and the funding available. When states run out of EQIP funding they can request more to address any backlogs. But it usually does not cover the full amount of the backlog.

Dry Wells are Not Reimbursed
One major caveat to this water well financial assistance: the national program policy prohibits NRCS (in all states) from providing financial assistance if the well turns out to be dry or does not produce adequate water for the producer’s livestock operation. This policy has led to some situations where a producer invests a fairly significant amount of funds and then cannot be reimbursed by NRCS. There is affordable technology available to prevent from drilling a dry or inadequate water well and protect any funding a cattle producer may receive from the NRCS. The EKS (Electro-Kinetic Survey) technology has been successfully used for over a decade to determine depth and flow. A seismic source is used to create a sharp sound pulse. When the sound pulse moves through porous and permeable aquifers (water bearing rock formations) it travels fast in the rock matrix and slower in the water-filled pore space. Ions in the water are dragged away from their partners bound to the rock and an electrical dipole is set up that “flickers” at seismic frequencies. The electrical flickers are collected at the surface through copper clad ground rods (antennae) and transmitted by cable to a computer using proprietary software. That data is then analyzed and interpreted to determine the presence or absence of groundwater. If water is detected an approximate depth and yield range can be measured in gallons per minute or liters per second.

American Water Surveyors
With the use of the EKS, American Water Surveyors provides the service of locating groundwater and determining depth and yield before a well is drilled. It assists in the avoidance of drilling a costly dry well and determines the best well location as it relates to optimum yield. Water well drillers get paid by the foot whether they hit water or not. American Water Surveyors services ranchers, farmers, homeowners, golf course developers, municipalities and private water companies in site selection for drilling a water well. This EKS technology is highly portable which allows these services to be provided to all clients, no matter where they are located. American Water Surveyors has conducted surveys in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. For more information contact American Water Surveyors at 877-734-7661 or Or order the book, “What You Should Know Before You Drill a Water Well” for $10.95 + postage and handling State sales tax will be added where applied by law.