U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has signed legislation into law to help stop a rush by real estate developers and others to tap into deep aquifers with brackish water.
The new law allows the state engineer to regulate the drilling of wells into aquifers at least 2,500 deep with “nonpotable” or salty water.
Lawmakers approved the measure during the recently completed 60-day legislative session to control the use of water from deep aquifers for residential and municipal purposes. Improvements in desalination technology have reduced the cost of converting brackish water into a potential supply of drinking water.
The state engineer manages most of New Mexico's surface and groundwater. But until the change in law, the state engineer's office only received notices of a person's intent to drill a well into a deep aquifer. The agency had no power to stop the drilling.
According to State Engineer John D'Antonio, more than 50 notices have filed during the past year to drill deep wells to pump more than one million acre-feet of water a year.
The new law takes effect immediately and Richardson said it “closed a major loophole” in the state's regulation of water.
Richardson said he signed the legislation because “we must ensure New Mexico's deep water reserves are protected and managed correctly.”
The new law does not apply to deep wells drilled for oil and gas operations, mining, agriculture and electricity generation.
Also signed by Richardson was a measure that makes clear that certain flood and erosion control dams are not subject to regulation by the state engineer. Those dams that drain water in 96 hours or less will not need approval from the agency or a water permit.
Under the new law, which takes effect June 19, the state engineer must approve plans for building and operating certain dams, including those are more than 25 feet high and will store more than 50 acre feet of water.
Currently, the office has the authority to approve the construction — but not the operating plans — of dams over 10 feet in height and impounding more than 10 acre feet of water.
Richardson said the change in law would allow the state engineer to concentrate “on the larger, more critical dams around the state that may be hazardous.”