State Engineer pauses groundwater permits - Albuquerque Journal

State Engineer pauses groundwater permits

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Water is stored for future oil drilling southeast of Carlsbad. The state engineer has paused new commercial groundwater appropriations in three basins of southeast New Mexico to study the aquifer. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

State Engineer John D’Antonio has restricted new groundwater permits in three basins of far southeastern New Mexico to study the impact of more wells on regional aquifers.

The temporary constraints cover new commercial appropriations in about 2,000 square miles of the Lea, Capitan and Carlsbad underground water basins.

State hydrologists need this “strategic pause,” D’Antonio said, to collect data and calibrate a model that can accurately predict how pumping affects the aquifer system.

“There is a degree of what we call hydrologic connection, and the formations that are underground are pretty complex,” he said. “It’s not yet well understood or quantified on how that aquifer interacts with other aquifers around it and with surface water, so right now the effects of any diversion from the formation can’t be accurately predicted.”

More than 80 commercial groundwater applications have been filed with the Office of the State Engineer’s Roswell District in the past three years.

About 60 applications are pending because of protests and OSE hearing proceedings.

The office has permitted a total of 1,500 acre-feet, or 488 million gallons, of groundwater in the affected basins since 2019.

But the pending permits seek a total of 23,000 acre-feet per year, or about 7.5 billion gallons.

“This really affects all applications for commercial wells, but most for the Roswell District Office have been for frack water,” D’Antonio said. “The main concern down there is how this could affect the city of Jal’s drinking water.”

Jal protested a groundwater pumping application last year by Intrepid Potash and NGL Energy Partners.

The order does not apply to new domestic wells, livestock wells, water right transfers within the basins, or drilling into certain deep brackish aquifers.

The State Engineer issued a similar order earlier this year for the East Mountains because of documented aquifer decline.

“When surface water dries up, groundwater doesn’t typically replenish as quickly,” D’Antonio said. “We have to pay attention to groundwater pumping and the sustainability of that, because more and more often groundwater is being used to supplement the lack of surface water.”


Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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