THE ROLE OF DOMESTIC WELLS IN NEW MEXICO

Water for one in six households in New Mexico is provided by individual domestic wells rather than by Public Water Systems.  Three quarters of those domestic wells supply households located in rural areas of New Mexico.2 

About 200,000 domestic well permits have been issued by the NM Office of the State Engineer (OSE) from 1956 to 2010 and the number is growing at 5,000 per year.  The growth indicates the level of on-going demand, primarily from new households outside city water systems.

 

Domestic wells supplied 28,952 acre feet (AF) to NM households in 2010, which is less than one percent of the water used in the state.4

Self-supply from domestic wells is relatively affordable.  A $10,000 to $20,000 well, pump and tank facility folded into a mortgage adds about $50 to $100/month to household expenses.  Energy costs to pump water are seldom over a few dollars per month.5    The main distinction to the homeowner is that self-supply requires their attention for pump maintenance, freezing, sanitation, etc., whereas the public-supply customer’s responsibilities end at the meter box. 

Domestic wells for self-supply are efficient users of the NM water resource.  OSE reports 70 to 100 gallons per capita per day use by domestic wells, and considerably more for town and city use (Roswell 242 gpcd, Santa Fe 111 gpcd, Albuquerque 157 gpcd).6   Recognizing that city systems include more service to parks and schools etc., the household use rates are roughly equivalent.  Cities are authorized to deny new domestic wells in their service area only if city water distribution lines are within 300 feet of the property line and the homeowner’s cost to hook on to city service is less than the cost of drilling a domestic well.7 

Some domestic wells in NM are required by OSE or by the courts to be metered.  The average water use from the metered records is 0.29 acre feet per year (AFY) per house, or 7900 gallons per month.8

Computer models by OSE cover most aquifers in the State.  The drawdown from domestic wells ranges from 1 to 5 feet in 40 years.  At that rate, there is no prospect of systematic interference with the yield of properly constructed adjacent wells.9 

 

The computer models also show that about 30 percent of the water used by domestic wells, or about 10,000 AFY statewide, is derived from surface streams, including rivers with interstate compacts.  Such impacts lie mostly on the Rio Grande where most domestic wells are located.  Domestic well impacts are less than one percent of Rio Grande compact water flow.10   New Mexico is in surplus on Compact deliveries.11

Domestic wells are administered by procedures set out in NM statutes and in the Administrative Code.  The statutes authorize use of “the underground waters applied for,” and the Administrative Code calls out a range of 0.25 (or less), 1.0, or 3.0 AFY for various permit conditions.  The low amount is for a Domestic Well Management Area to prevent impairment of related surface water.  However, no such area has been declared by OSE.  The higher amount is available where domestic use is shown not to impair existing rights.12 

The Legislature’s rationale for permitting domestic wells “[b]y reason of the . . .  relatively small amounts of water consumed” remains the fundamental principle throughout NM.13

The NM Supreme Court has found that “the Legislature codified this simpler permitting process as a policy choice,” and that due process is respected absent evidence of impairment or deprivation of others’ property rights from following the present procedure.14

 

Domestic well infrastructure incurs no public expense.  In contrast, the gap in Public Water System infrastructure over 20 years is $237 billion in 11 western states.15   Albuquerque and Santa Fe have spent $600 million on recent infrastructure.16   Self-service by private wells reduces the load of such public expenditures.  

 

The Department of Homeland Security17  identifies public water systems as critical infrastructure and vulnerable to risk from man-made and natural disaster. Domestic wells are more secure, distributed, not interconnected and have little vulnerability to incidents affecting large numbers.  The majority of persons affected by outbreaks of water-borne disease are on public systems, not private wells.18 

Domestic wells are among the most valued, safest and least harmful of all water uses in New Mexico.19 

POSITION STATEMENT

Domestic wells are widely appreciated for their advantages to the citizens of New Mexico.  

NMGWA supports an initiative to:

•improve well construction;

•limit withdrawals only on sound scientific data and public input; and

•enhance the regulation for filing a change of ownership upon title transfer (§ 19.27.5.13 NMAC) to include:  


1) water quality testing (coliform, TDS, nitrate, hardness, arsenic, fluoride),

2) a system inspection to be completed by a licensed well driller or licensed pump installer to include flow test, depth to water & pump setting (when practical) along with the condition of other system components.




1United Nations, Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

2New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, Water Use for Year 2010, Technical Report 54 (“OSE Technical Report 54”), tables 2 and 3; U.S. Census of Housing (1990).

3Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 45, by Balleau and Silver (2005)(“Balleau and Silver”).

4OSE Technical Report 54, , table 2.

55 percent, 30 years, $0.09/kWh.

6OSE Technical Report 54, p. 8 and table 7. 

7Section 3-53-1.1 NMSA 1978.

8State ex rel. State Engineer v. Aamodt, No. 66cv06639 (D. N.M.), OSE Water Master Report (Apr. 25, 2005); Santa Fe County, Water Resource Inventory of the Espanola Basin, by A.C. Lewis (2013).

9Balleau and Silver; U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Supply Paper 1536, by Robinson and Skibitzki (1962).

10Balleau and Silver.

11NM Interstate Stream Commission. 

12Section 72-12-1.1 NMSA 1978; Section 19.27.5 NMAC.

13Section 72-12-1 NMSA 1978.

14Bounds v. State ex rel. D’Antonio, 2013-NMSC-037, ¶¶ 40, 54.

15American Water Works Association, Report to Congress, Water Infrastructure Challenge (2012). 

16ABCWUA and Sangre de Cristo.

17Homeland Security, Water Sector-Specific Plan,(2010). 

18Center for Disease Control.  “The majority of outbreaks (75.8%) and outbreak-associated illnesses (79.4%) were linked to community water systems.”  MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. (2013).

19Balleau and Silver.