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.
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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.