Deep Groundwater Administration in New Mexico
New Mexico aquifers may contain as much as one billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater. Largely unutilized but long recognized as an important resource, this groundwater is receiving increased attention. Since 1967 nonpotable water in deep aquifers has been legally excluded from groundwater basins administered by the State Engineer. These are defined in statute as any aquifer the top of which is at least 2500 feet below ground surface and which contains nonpotable water (total dissolved solids content greater than 1000 parts per million).
For 40 years only a few notices to drill into deep nonpotable aquifers were filed. From 2006 through 2010, 68 notices proposing 610 deep wells for the appropriation of over 1.7 million acre-feet were filed, in a veritable “gold rush” on New Mexico’s deep groundwater. In 2010, actual groundwater withdrawals in the state totaled about 1.8 million acre-feet. Most of these notices were filed for municipal and related uses in the Albuquerque area. To date (December 2013) 13 deep wells exist, and actual use of the resource has been small.
Amendments in 2009 allow the State Engineer to declare and administer deep basins. Appropriations from a declared deep basin for most uses would remain subject to the deep nonpotable aquifer statutes, except for drinking water uses, which would require a State Engineer permit. The amendments also specify that a deep aquifer contain only nonpotable water, limiting the potential for connection to freshwater sources and effects on senior users and interstate streams. New Mexico appears to be entering a new phase with respect to deep nonpotable groundwater, with active development to supply a proposed mining use in progress. Within this context the State Engineer is exploring management options for New Mexico’s deep groundwater, including developing an administrative framework that allows resource development while protecting existing water users.