Inland Desalination: The Regulatory Side

Staci Matlock has a good story in this morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican outlining the regulatory dilemma facing New Mexico related to Sandoval County’s hunt for brackish water for desalination:

This new, deep source of water poses a regulatory challenge to the state engineer, who is charged with overseeing New Mexico’s increasingly precious water resources. Under current law, brackish water found at least 2,500 feet below the ground — and proven unconnected to upper aquifers bearing potable water — can be pumped without a permit from the state engineer.

The kicker at the end of Staci’s story nails down the fundamental problem – if the water is truly disconnected from surface water, that means that, by definition, it’s going to run out:

To avoid having to apply for a state permit, Sandoval County and Rio West must prove that the deep aquifers they tap into won’t impact any of the potable aquifers closer to the surface.

Just in case, though, the county agreed with Rio West that after 20 years of pumping, Sandoval County would be responsible for finding a renewable water source for the Rio Puerco, Springfield said.

The agreement points to a long-term dilemma for anyone looking to deep aquifers as a new source of water: If the deep aquifer is disconnected from any renewable supply, eventually the water will run out. Then the water for developments like Rio West will have to come from somewhere else.

If drawing water from the deep aquifer does impact upper aquifers, developers of big projects like Rio West face the same prospect as other developers: Fighting farmers, environmentalists and other communities for the right to pump.

Further Reading: