U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE, N.M. -- The state's top water official is
considering tighter restrictions on pumping from new domestic wells
and may propose higher fees for water well permits.
State Engineer John D'Antonio said a decision should be made in
the next few weeks whether his office will propose regulations to
limit a well to one acre foot per year for a household -- a third of
what currently can be pumped.
He also may propose raising the permit fee from $5 to $500, with
the money used to acquire water rights or pay for other actions to
offset water depletion attributed to well usage.
D'Antonio said he was waiting for approval from Gov. Bill
Richardson's office before moving ahead with water well changes.
He said he would like to start the proposed rule-making before
next year's legislative session when it's expected that domestic
wells will be a hotly debated topic.
Currently, the state engineer must grant permits for new domestic
use wells, which covers those for household use, livestock and
irrigation of up to an acre of land. The engineer can't reject a
permit because of concerns how the well might affect the water rights
of other users.
There have been legislative proposals to broaden the state
engineer's regulatory power -- allowing him to deny new well permits
-- but those have failed in the past.
Well permits allow for up to three acre feet of water a year. An
acre foot is about 326,000 gallons.
Domestic wells are popular with developers because they don't
require people to obtain new water rights. However, critics say that
wells in some areas of the state potentially impair senior water
rights and are affecting groundwater aquifers.
Currently, there are 143,600 wells across the state and nearly
9,500 well permits were issued between October 2002 and September
D'Antonio said he hoped to head off a potentially divisive
legislative fight over domestic wells by suggesting the new
restrictions on well use.
"It's a frustrating exercise to go and try to get something passed
that is not going to get passed because it polarizes a bunch of
different groups," D'Antonio said in an interview.
Currently, the engineer can impose limits on wells in areas facing
critical water problems. In the Estancia Basin, for example, wells
are limited to one acre foot a year. A court has ordered well
restrictions in parts of southwestern New Mexico.
D'Antonio said the proposal under consideration would provide
flexibility to allow up to three acre feet of water from wells for
watering livestock in certain instances and for greater residential
use for wells shared by households. He said up to three acre feet
would be allowed for a shared well, with each household limited to
one acre foot per year.
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