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IMPROVING NEW MEXICO’S WATER MANAGEMENT - page 34 / 47

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NMSEO, Technical report 46. This rate of growth in groundwater use cannot be sustained. But

neither can it be arbitrarily limited. New Mexico can develop a no growth policy, but our

economy would decline. There would be no new investment. Maybe for retired or wealthy

people this would be OK, but for everyone else, salaries would decrease and unemployment

increase.

A different set of rules allocates groundwater among competing users. Groundwater is

considered a public good held in trust for citizens of New Mexico. The SEO, on a finding that

groundwater depletion out of a given aquifer is significant, declares it a closed basin and then

regulates groundwater pumping. Since most aquifers are finite, the SEO sets the amount of

pumping so that the aquifer has as least a 40-year life. This is very important point. In New

Mexico, there is no sustainable yield of an aquifer that is not conjunctive to surface flows

(conjunctive is further described below). Groundwater recharge is minimal in New Mexico.

Users are granted a permit to pump a specific amount of water. Long-term water past 40 years is

not guaranteed. As users pump out the aquifer, the depth to water and drawdown will increase,

and thus depletion increases the costs of pumping to all users. Once an aquifer is declared and

pumping regulations set, the SEO generally does not permit new applications. However,

pumping permits can be traded from one user to another, as long as the net effect on the aquifer

is the same. What happens after the 40 years of depletion of an aquifer? History is full of

circumstances in which a society depleted its natural resources. Either a society learns to adopt a

sustainable resource base or become, as in many areas of the west associated with mining, a

ghost town.

A more complicated set of rules applies to groundwater that is conjunctive to surface

water. Many aquifers are connected to a river in that there is flow between the river and the

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