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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Sandoval County’s brackish water initiative

—Guy Bralley, Water Resources Administrator, County of Sandoval

Sandoval County’s population has grown more than 46 percent since 2000, making it the fastest-growing county in New Mexico according to the 2010 census. Dealing with the potential for high continued growth rates inspired the County to try to get ahead of a fast-moving problem. Acting to address future water demand became part of the plan to stay in front of growth.

In 2006, the County was approached by a developer with a master plan for a community in the Rio Puerco Valley west of Rio Rancho and east of the Laguna Pueblo. Recorp Partner’s proposal was for 23,352 to 29,434 dwelling units on an approximately 11,650-acre parcel.

While the County approved the request, construction can’t begin until the County Commission approves a subdivision application. This application must show, in accordance with Appendix B to the Sandoval County Subdivision Ordinance and to the satisfaction of the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), that the area has a one hundred-year water supply. At this point in time (March 2012), there has been no application, no approval, and no demonstration of the one hundred-year supply. The proposed development is, and has been, an entirely commercial undertaking, though the County and the developer signed a memorandum of understanding and a development agreement to jointly create a wholesale water utility if a brackish water supply could be identified and treated to meet this demand for water.

At the time these efforts began, New Mexico statutes provided an exemption from Office of the State Engineer control for non-potable water from aquifers greater than 2,500 feet below the surface (72-12-25 NMSA which was amended in 2009 returning more control to OSE). This was interpreted as exempting brackish waters from existing water rights policies and presented an opportunity to reduce water resource expenses. Notices of Intent (NOIs) were filed, and permits were issued by OSE to drill six deep wells—three in Sandoval and three in Bernalillo County. Only two of the three in Sandoval were drilled. Well locations were selected based on studies funded by Recorp.

As no wells had been drilled to qualifying depths locally, hitting water was uncertain. The County Commission dedicated $6 million toward answering that question. In June 2007, a two-well project was begun. Drilling began mid-month, and on July 13, water came up the well from 3,704 feet. Further drilling discovered more water between 3,772 feet and 3,776 feet. A well was completed at 3,850 feet. The drilling rig was moved about 4,000 feet to the west and another well was drilled.

This second well also encountered water in the San Andreas/Glorieta formations at similar depths; both wells flowed artesian (with no pump) though the first well (Well 6) at higher rates than the second (Well 5). This second well was completed in the Biotite Granite formations at a total depth of 6,450 feet. The reason for going to these depths (fifty feet into the granite) was to identify formations possibly favorable for further evaluation as re-injection sites.

Both wells were completed in accordance with the OSE permit: cemented to 3,000 feet, both bond and temperature logs, and specifically identified pipe casings. The exploratory area is highly faulted, making general geological assumptions problematic. While not required by the permit, geophysical logs were run in the bore prior to the casings being installed. This allowed recording and evaluation of formation characteristics of these previously understudied areas. It is interesting to note that the water in these wells was over 160UF at depths of about 3,200 feet and that when the wells were shut in (valves closed) the pressures were 150-160psi (artesian pressures). Water quality was 12,000 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (TDS) and contained high levels of arsenic, iron, radionuclides, and hardness. Most will have to be removed in treatment to make this resource potable (less than 1,000 TDS, and arsenic levels at or below ten parts per billion (ppb).

A thirty-day flow test supported estimates that there may be 500,000 to 2,500,000 acre-feet of brackish water available. This is considered a conservative estimate, but one can only reach so far on two wells’ data. Additional testing and drilling may provide more accurate estimates of capacity.

In 2009, a pilot demonstration was conducted using Well 6 water. A trailer-mounted system provided proof of concept for multi-step treatment at low volumes and rates. The results of this testing were reported to OSE and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in the Preliminary Engineering Report. This report was funded by legislative action. It has been approved by NMED and is available on the County’s website (downloadable at no cost).

In conclusion, the County’s investment of six million dollars or more confirmed:

  • A deep brackish water resource lies beneath the Puerco Basin.
  • This water can be treated to achieve potability standards.
  • It will cost more than most current water sources.
  • Additional drilling and testing will add knowledge about this resource.

The agreement between the developer and the County became contentious and ultimately ended as a mediated settlement agreement, which has yet to be fully executed or complied with. The County is proceeding under the assumption that the terms of the settlement agreement will be complied with, which includes compensation to the County for its investment (see six million dollars above). Development of the resource is still being pursued by some developer entities.

Reprinted from The New Mexico Water Dialogue, Spring 2012

New Mexicans demand clean energy

—Sierra Club

On April 10, dozens of New Mexicans rallied outside Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM) headquarters demanding that the utility begin directing their large corporate profits towards clean energy instead of relying on old, dirty coal-fired power plants. Members of environmental, health, Native American, and community groups including the Sierra Club, SouthWest Organizing Project, Dine CARE, 350NM, and CREDO Action rallied outside the building at noon, then delivered more than three thousand petition signatures addressed to PNM CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn. PNM spokesperson Valerie Smith accepted the petitions on the company’s behalf.

The petition signatures were collected online in response to a recent report from the organizations called “Perspective on PNM,” which found that since 2008, PNM’s electricity rates have increased by 41 percent, adding $250 per year to the average residential ratepayer’s bill. At the same time, the report revealed that PNM directed 79 percent of the revenue from rate increases towards corporate profits, and less than six percent to efficiency and renewable energy programs.

The Perspective on PNM report revealed that, despite a corporate profit increase of 2500 percent—$144 million between 2008 and 2010—PNM continues to fall short of meeting the state’s requirement that utilities provide ten percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010. PNM currently provides just 7.3 percent of its power from renewable sources. Moreover, PNM achieved savings of just 1.6 percent from energy efficiency programs through 2010, below the five percent target of New Mexico’s Efficient Use of Energy Act.

Executive compensation was also an issue raised by the activists. On April 6, PNM granted Vincent-Collawn a one million dollar bonus for performance.

PNM currently operates and owns 46 percent of shares in the San Juan Generating Station in Farmington, which burns dirty coal, exposing Navajo communities and other local residents to toxic pollutants like nitrogen oxide and climate-disrupting carbon pollution. San Juan Generating Station also threatens New Mexico’s water security, consuming twice as much clean water annually as the city of Santa Fe. PNM also owns shares in the nearby Four Corners coal-fired power plant.

“The San Juan Generating Station and nearby coal mine have been making us sick, threatening our livelihoods, and desecrating our sacred sites for far too long,” said Donna House with Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment. “It’s shameful that PNM insists on a cheap and dirty plan for regional haze to keep this outdated coal-burning power plant running, while Navajo Chapters have passed resolutions calling for a transition from coal to clean energy.”

Sagebrush Lizard

Newly discovered species of amphipod

Senators praise dunes sagebrush lizard conservation agreements

—Marissa Padilla

On April 18, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman praised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Mexico’s oil and gas, and agricultural industries for working together to establish agreements to protect the habitat of the dunes sagebrush lizard. In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife leadership, presented to Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, the senators thanked the agency for their work and encouraged the Regional Director to continue to work with stakeholders in the state of Texas to pursue similar agreements. 

“This level of habitat preservation is a result of commitments by industry and agriculture and the New Mexico State Land Office under the strong leadership of Ray Powell, in coordination with Federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management,” said the senators in the letter. “We commend the efforts of industry, Federal, and State agencies, and individual producers to create a situation where the New Mexico economy and lizard can recover together.”

After initially proposing endangered species status for the dunes sagebrush lizard in 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service has increasingly worked with businesses to establish Candidate Conservation Agreements that will stabilize the species’ population, foster habitat restoration, and allow the oil, gas, and agricultural industries to continue to thrive. More than 95 percent of the lizard’s habitat in New Mexico is protected through the agreements.

Las Placitas Association solar fair

—Sandy Johnson

How many times has the thought gone through your mind that you’d consider installing solar energy in your home if only it was affordable? With enough interest from members of our community it appears possible that the cost could be brought down. The Las Placitas Association has begun planning a community event that would provide an opportunity to talk to a variety of Solar Energy providers.  Among them we would invite an expert with twenty years experience in the solar energy field who can answer questions and provide the community with a vision that may provide a way to lower costs. We’d also invite a Placitas Home Owner Association representative to address architectural questions for those community members who live in areas covered by covenants.

Interest would determine our next steps. Please contact the Las Placitas Association through our web page at and leave an email message with the subject: SOLAR.

New shrimp discovered

Newly discovered species of amphipod

New species of freshwater shrimp discovered in BLM cave

—Donna Hummel

A new species of freshwater shrimp-like crustacean was recently discovered in a gypsum cave northeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The shrimp was found on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management during a biological inventory conducted by ZARA Environmental.

Examination by scientists indicates that the specimen is a new species of amphipod previously unknown to science. It is closely related to Parabogidiella amerciana, a blind subterranean species, which lives primarily in the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas.

Dr. John Holsinger with the Biological Sciences Department of Old Dominion University in Virginia first described that genus and species in 1980. “This is a very unique species, and this finding represents a significant range extension,” said Dr. Holsinger of the new discovery. “There are significant differences in the morphology of the rear appendages that make it a new species.” 

Dr. Holsinger has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Randy Gibson in San Marcos, Texas to conduct the taxonometric description. “This is quite an interesting find,” Gibson said. “There was only one species in this genus, and now there are two. They are considered primitive marine relics with ancestors possibly left over from receding Cretaceous seas.”

Jim Goodbar, BLM Senior Cave and Karst Specialist, has also been involved with the discovery. “It’s not every day a new species is discovered in one of our caves,” Goodbar said. “There is still a lot we don’t know about the land beneath our feet. Karst aquifers are unique and highly valuable. They provide specialized habitat for species yet to be discovered.”
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