Domestic Wells

The Office of the State Engineer is required to issue a permit to anyone who wants to drill and use a domestic well.  As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of such wells drawing on New Mexico's limited groundwater, and many more new ones each year.  Cumulatively, those wells have a significant impact on the state's aquifers, and on larger users who have rights to use that groundwater.

Posts - Any technical papers, data, opinions, announcements, etc. that relate to this Domestic Wells issue appear just below.

Commentary: Surviving a drought

By Bob Wessely | January 31, 2024

Drought – nature’s reminder that water does not grow on trees.

Drought is the time when some form of government advice or regulation prescribes that we collectively choose to reduce our uses of water, usually because of some form of government advice or regulation. It is the time when

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Why Should You Plan for Water?

By Bob Wessely | January 3, 2024

Who gets water when there isn’t enough? At a simplified level, the current “Priority Administration” regulations, if enforced when there isn’t enough water, would provide water to Nations/Tribes/Pueblos and other senior irrigators first, leaving very thirsty cities and towns. And with desperately thirsty cities and towns, the New Mexico economy would wither, taking down

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Water Rights … and Water Wrongs

By Bob Wessely | December 6, 2023

While the rules about them are extremely complicated, “water rights” are simply your permission slip from the State to use water, if you can find it (often a big “if”).  ll too often people conflate paper water and wet water. The results can be seriously misleading or worse. 

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UNM’s Middle Rio Grande Water Data Dashboard: Status Report & What’s Next

By Norm Gaume | October 2, 2023

The Water Data Dashboard will be online at the end of this semester as an interactive website prototype with integrated graphic views and drill-down features, illustrating where our water comes from, where it is going, and what we need to know but don’t.

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Water Wells Are at Risk of Going Dry in the U.S. and Worldwide

By Carolyn Kennedy | May 12, 2021

The Conversation (funded by the University of California has published “Water Wells Are at Risk of Going Dry in the U.S. and Worldwide” by Professors Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko, University of California at Santa Barbara, addressing the worldwide decline of groundwater. “As the drought outlook for the Western U.S. becomes increasingly bleak, attention is turning…

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New Mexico Headed to (Water) Bankruptcy Court?

By Executive Council | March 10, 2021

The State Constitution requires the State to balance its annual budget, which prevents financial bankruptcy. However, the State is hurtling towards water bankruptcy in many of the State’s distinct hydrologic regions.

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We welcome postings on this or other water-related issues from interested parties.  Please email your posts, preferably in Word format, to the Editorial Board at

Description of the Issue

New Mexico's statues require that virtually anyone who wants a domestic well must be granted permission.  In the Middle Rio Grande, there are tens of thousands of domestic wells.  Annual groundwater pumping of up to 3 acre-feet per year was allowed until recently, when the amount was reduced to 1 acre-foot per year.  This limit is about seven times what an average urban Middle Rio Grande household uses.

Although the groundwater impacts and depletions of Middle Rio Grande water from individual domestic wells are small, the cumulative amounts are significant.  Cumulative impacts include depletion of local aquifers, such as in the Placitas area.  Consumptive use of water pumped by domestic wells takes a portion of the Middle Rio Grande's legally limited total consumptive use but with no offsets to impacts on senior water rights owners.  These effects are currently largely unmeasured.

A future possibility might be to require junior domestic wells to offset their effects on the Rio Grande and senior water rights owners through a water bank transaction.



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