Repermitting the Northwest Well
Northwest Well History
The City completed the 2000-foot Northwest (“NW”) well (RG-68302-Expl) in November 1998. In March of 1999, the City filed an application to make the NW well supplemental to the City well field right (RG-1113 thru RG-1118 combined) for a diversion of up to 4,865 acre-feet. The Pueblo of Tesuque, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Santa Fe Basin Water Association protested the supplemental well application, and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) scheduled an administrative hearing.
During the drought year in 2000, the OSE granted City an Emergency Authorization to use 720 acre-feet of water from the well. Recognizing a continued drought and supply emergency, the next year the City voluntarily proposed to limit the use of the NW well to 10 years in a “stipulation”, with a maximum annual cap from the NW well of 900 acre-feet per year and for the total maximum diversion from RG-1113 thru RG-1118 combined not to exceed the amount of water historically put to beneficial use under the City well field of 3,507 acre-feet year. The City also agreed to offset the projected stream impacts on the Rio Pojoaque and the Rio Tesuque. The Protestants agreed to the stipulation and withdrew their protests, and the OSE granted the City a ten-year permit for the NW well. The 10-year permit on the NW well expired in January of 2012.
Current Well Application
The City’s current NW well application with the OSE follows staff’s understanding of the City’s water right as summarized in OSE’s Water Rights Division Witness Report on March 1, 2001:
“Under OSE file RG-1113 through RG-1118 Combined, the City of Santa Fe has a valid water right for diversion of 4,865 acre-feet per year. The Office of the State Engineer-Water Rights Division does not object to the use of RG-68302 as a supplemental point of diversion under RG-1113 through RG-1118 Combined for the diversion of such quantities of water and to such as an extent as may be allowable based on the administrative guidelines described in this report.”
Past Use of the NW Well
The NW well has proven to be a reliable and critical component of the City’s water supply system. The NW produces high quality water, which is frequently blended with Buckman well field water to achieve Safe Drinking Water Act standards on arsenic and uranium. Over the past 10 years, the City has used the NW well an average of 443 acre-feet per year, less than half of the permitted amount. The maximum use was 902 acre-feet in 2002. Furthermore, the City has used the City well field an average of 2,000 acre-feet per year; a rate substantially below the perfected amount of 3,507 acre-feet/year.
Value of the NW Well
The City has invested a significant amount of resources into the NW well by:
- purchasing the 4,865 acre-feet of pre-Basin water rights from PNM in 1995
- drilling and permitting the 2,000-foot well, and building the necessary transmission infrastructure
The value of the 900 acre-feet of water rights alone, assuming an estimate of $20,000/ acre-foot is $18 million. The additional value of the NW well is the role it plays in the City’s water system as a high- quality, high-volume source that blends with other sources to make more of the sources of supply usable.
Role of the NW well in the City’s Long Range Water Supply Plans
The Governing Body approved the re-permitting of the NW well in the Long Range Water Supply Plan (Water Plan) in 2008, since the conjunctive use of surface and groundwater is integral to the City’s providing for the City’s long term water supply need. Under the City’s current water supply policy as approved in the Water Plan, the City plans on using surface water as it is available, with a baseline use of groundwater supplies as necessary. Then, under drought and emergency conditions, the City will need to rely more heavily on groundwater resources. For example, in 2011 when New Mexico received less precipitation than any year in recorded history, the City used more groundwater than it might in a year where the annual precipitation rate is closer to the annual average.
Public Notice and Involvement
The OSE permit application process is designed to give the public the opportunity to protest if the water rights application impairs existing water rights, is contrary to the conservation of water or would be detrimental to the public welfare. In order to be most efficient with limited staff time and resources, staff is using the OSE public process as the vehicle for public input. This purpose of this web page is to provide the public with information on the project and access to key documents like the application, hydrologic analyses (when performed), expert reports, and any other relevant data and/or reports. Further questions or comments on the project can be directed to Claudia Borchert (505-955-4203 or e-mail).
NW Well Impacts on Rio Tesuque, Rio Pojoaque, Rio Grande and La Cienega Area Springs
With the use of the NW well, the City expanded the configuration of productions wells associated with the 4,865 acre-feet of groundwater right to the north. For the past 10 years, the City has offset the resulting increased impacts on the Rio Tesuque and Rio Pojoaque. The City has not gotten any credit for the decreased impact the City has had on the La Cienega area springs. The City’s practice and intent is to continue to offset the stream and spring impacts as quantified by the OSE's administrative groundwater model. Under the Aamodt Settlement Agreement, the settlement parties recognized the right of the City to use its groundwater rights, provided that the City offsets stream impacts to the Rio Tesuque and Rio Pojoaque consistent with Office of the State Engineer (OSE) requirements. The graph below shows that between 1976 and 2010 the Buckman well field offset rights have provided 2,773 acre-feet of water to the Rio Tesuque/Rio Pojoaque stream system compared to the requirement to offset 1,496 acre-feet.
NW Well Impacts on Other Groundwater Users
The City understands the importance of domestic wells to their owners and the need for the community to collectively manage the shared aquifer resources. At the same time, the City has an obligation to its citizens to supply a safe and adequate water supply. Like the domestic wells, the City is dependent on local groundwater, and groundwater plays an important part in the City’s water supply portfolio, especially during drought. In the case of the NW well, staff has not identified any facts about impacts to domestic wells from pumping of the NW well such that the City would forego use of this well and increase the City’s vulnerability to droughts. A number of specific considerations regarding domestic wells are identified below.
1) NW well is a critical part of the City’s water supply system that provides water to over 70,000 residents; the domestic well owners in the area number around 700.
2) Most area well owners do not use “renewable” surface water conjunctively with their groundwater use, as the City does, although the harvesting and storing of rainwater is a viable renewable water supply for homeowners.
3) As part of the application process, the City and the OSE will analyze the incremental affect on groundwater, wells and surface water from pumping the City’s full water right from RG-1113 through RG1118 versus moving 900 acre-feet to the NW.
4) Domestic wells permitted under NMSA 1978, § 72-12-1.1 have a water permit, not a water right.
5) The nearest Tano Road area groundwater well is about one mile away from the NW well.
6) Some lots in the area were subdivided after 1983, and have water use restrictions of 0.25 acre-foot per year. Other lots may be permitted to use up to 3 acre-feet per year. The average Santa Fe residence uses 0.15 acre-foot per year. Although Santa Fe County subdivision regulations require reporting of water use, less than 1% of well owners report their water usage. A recent regional study shows that domestic well use is 20-100% more than use by households on public or community water utilities.
7) A USGS groundwater monitoring well 1 mile NE of the NW well shows the rates of groundwater decline between 1.5 and 2.5 ft/year; more than half of this is considered by the OSE attributable to other pumping or “regional” groundwater decline rate of 1.2 ft/year.
8) The domestic well water users do not mitigate their groundwater impacts on other wells or to senior surface water right users.