The Domestic Well Exemption in the West: A Case Study of Santa Fe's Municipal Ordinance

Wednesday, February 24, 2016: 9:25 a.m.
Maxine Paul , Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources, Albuquerque, NM

In the recent case of Bounds v. State of New Mexico, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a statute that allows domestic wells to be permitted with less oversight than other water rights. The statute, known as the domestic well exemption, is common in various forms throughout the western United States. Currently, there are an estimated 200,000 permitted domestic wells across the state of New Mexico, increasing at a rate of approximately 5,000 per year. Various scholars have argued for amendments to domestic well statutes or local regulations to make exempt well applications as rigorous as other water right applications. In consideration of local solutions, this study addresses one of the few municipal ordinances and three important controversies in domestic well management: the interaction between domestic well pumping and other water uses, the longevity of groundwater sources, and the “development loophole.” The City of Santa Fe’s domestic well ordinance is found to indirectly address concerns related to aquifer use and conservation; however, restricting well uptake in threatened areas that speak to specific, measurable goals, aligned with accurate databases, may better serve municipalities and counties in New Mexico as they do in other states.

Maxine Paul, Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources, Albuquerque, NM
Maxine Paul is the Environmental Program Manager at the Pueblo of Santa Ana. She has worked for the public, private, and non-profit sectors in environmental science and water policy in New Mexico. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from Columbia University (2010) and a Master of Water Resources from the University of New Mexico (2014).