At Webster Well No. 1, housed in a small concrete building off Paseo del Norte and Barstow NE, crews under the supervision of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority are finishing installation of the valves and pumps needed to create Albuquerque’s first “aquifer storage and recovery” well.
Building on a recommendation in the 2004 Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan, the water utility is testing the idea of pumping water underground, storing it for times when surpluses are available for later use during droughts or periods of high demand.
The water will come from the utility’s allotment from the San Juan-Chama Project, which brings Colorado River Basin water from Colorado through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide, dumping it into the Rio Chama for use in the Rio Grande Valley.
Albuquerque currently uses a mix of San Juan-Chama water and groundwater. The Webster experiment is an attempt to find better balance between the two by maximizing capture of San Juan-Chama water when it is available.
“If we’re able to store the water when we have it, then we’ll be able to use it when we don’t,” said Amy Ewing, a hydrogeologist with Daniel B. Stephens and Associates, one of the consultants working with the water utility on the project.
The experiment, to be run for a month or more, will test the technology being used for getting the water down the well, and the ability to recover the water later by pumping it back out, explained Katherine Yuhas, the utility’s water conservation officer.
The Webster well is currently unused because of naturally occurring high levels of arsenic, in excess of federally mandated safety levels, in the groundwater below. When the water is pumped back out, it will be tested to see if the clean San Juan-Chama project water has successfully pushed aside the arsenic-contaminated water.
If the project works, it could be expanded to other wells in the area next year.
While the testing is being done in spring, the long-range plan is for winter use. During the winter, the San Juan-Chama drinking water system is not being used to its maximum capacity, and additional water could be treated and stored underground to be pumped and used during high-demand summer outdoor watering season, or during drought years when the San Juan-Chama system has to be shut down, according to Yuhas.