"Water is intrinsically different from other resources and products. It cannot be treated as a commodity."
from "Water Wars" by Vandana Shiva
Testimony of Dr. Frank Titus
presented to the board of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
during their January 11, 2008 meeting
Dr. Titus said that this proposal to bring 54,000 ac-ft of water per year out of the San Augustin Basin over to the Rio Grande, in his book, is imaginative and if it goes that way that it will be very profitable for somebody. But it will also screw a bunch of people. By his calculations, the 37 proposed wells to provide the water are laid out in an array covering about 14 sections in the vicinity of Datil and running from just south of US Hwy 60 north for about 6-7 miles. If these wells produce 54,000 ac-ft of water per year, and if they create a cone of depression that is twice the area of the footprint of the wells, they will create draw down of 30 feet a year and that is if they have the capacity to produce that much water at all. The proposition that 37 wells can provide that much water assumes that the wells in an aquifer that is as prolific as the aquifer in the vicinity of Albuquerque and this is a unique, marvelous aquifer. The proposition that 37 wells can be drilled in the northeastern part of the San Augustin Plains and produce 2,000-3,000 gallons per minutes is at least highly questionable. At 30 feet of draw down per year they could not produce for very long. The wells are in a highly prolific part of the aquifer, but in order to produce for many decades at that rate they would have to cover the whole basin with wells and have dramatic draw downs over the basin and most of the rest of the basin does not have the permeability that that particular part does.
If the State Engineer approve such a proposal, the most distressing part is that which is the good aquifer end of the San Augustin Plains it probably also discharges a significant amount of water down Alamosa Creek and ultimately through the box that is about 15 miles down stream and over to the west side of Elephant Butte Reservoir. There is no quantitative data to know how much water is involved coming down the pathway. A proposal to bring 54,000 ac-ft per year and put it in the river in the Socorro vicinity and thereby balance an equal amount of pumping out of the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area does several things. First of all it would measurably reduce the flow of the Rio Grande surface water system including through the District’s distribution system. Markedly reduce the flow between Albuquerque and the point at which water is put into the Rio Grande Valley in the Socorro area - that is an 80 mile stretch. There is an inevitable reduction in wet water flow. There is the issue of the contribution from Monticello Creek, Alamosa Creek coming out of the San Augustin Basin to the west side of Elephant Butte Reservoir. Assuming that the addition at Socorro matches the withdrawal at Albuquerque at least there would be a balance in that reach. But when you go on down stream, it is inevitable that if you take water our of the San Augustin Basin and you pipe it to Socorro, then you cut off the flow down Alamosa Creek and Monticello Creek into Elephant Butte. Ultimately, even though it may take decades to happen, the total flow of the Rio Grande will be reduced by the amount of water that is taken out of the San Augustin Basin.
Then there is the problem of the closed basin character of the San Augustin Basin and it’s an issue of how long it is able to continue to contribute that water to the Socorro reach assuming a pipeline is built and water is piped. Over a period of decades the water table will be drawn down so much in the San Augustin region that it will no longer supply fresh water. Once all of the easily available water out of the San Augustin Basin is exploited and no longer able to contribute water to the Rio Grande, then there is no replacement water coming in. If this is approved, we will have created an additional cone of depression and removed water from the Albuquerque area which cannot be replaced now and there will be no more water coming into the Socorro area because the San Augustin region will be exhausted and we will cut off the source of water going down to recharge the system at Elephant Butte. By short sighted approval of such a proposition, we will be put in a position where there is simply no way to balance the amount of water that has been taken out and we will come up seriously short. Of course, it will not be within the tenure of this State Engineer or several others, but the State of New Mexico is going to be around for a long time as well as the MRGCD. Dr. Titus said that in his personal opinion that for the District to participate in any way in this kind of a thing - it’s basically a money making scam by someone that owns a ranch over there.
Dr. Titus said the District’s responsibility ought to be at the table as the decisions are being made. The number of oppositions to this proposal approaches 500. The District, which has the most direct responsibility in managing water in the Rio Grande in this part of NM, and which right now is not a party and if there is a way to become a party, it may be uncomfortable to accept the proposition that the District could sign on with Director Turner’s protest, but it is far more uncomfortable for the District to not be a party in some form as the District.
Dr. Titus responded to a question from Director Turner by saying that he hopes as this proposal is pursued that it would be essential that a great deal more quantitative data be collected. He said that he has nothing against market based drivers for marketing water supplies. What he objects to is short term profits by an individual that puts the State of NM in an untenable position and one where he doesn’t see any answers. He went on to say that the San Augustin proposal would be ground water mining and he doesn’t have an issue with mining ground water. If adequate studies are done and there is adequate prediction as to how long the
water is going to last and people who buy and sell land know how much water there is that is fine. It is not fine, however, in a geological environment where apparently the best studies show that that basin is contributing now to the flow of the Rio Grande and that would be terminated by the proposed development.
The proposed development then in turn would justify further consumptive use by major municipalities and there is no water to replace what has been used. Director Jarratt said that there are at least two ways that water within the MRGCD boundaries could be affected. One is directly through the ground water pumping on the San Augustin Plains diminishing the natural flow between the basins into the Middle Rio Grande and the second would be if as it was advertised, that the water could be used to offset effects of ground water pumping on the Rio Grande, you would diminish the available amount of surface water that would be available to the farmers with the MRGCD from the point where the pumping increased to Socorro could have potential impacts.
Dr. Titus said that the final part of the impact is that after you dry up the aquifer in the San Augustin area then you have created cones of depression that are sucking on the river in the Albuquerque area and you’re no longer contributing from the San Augustin region and you have cut off the water that is now going down Alamosa Creek into Monticello Creek and to the Butte. Director Jarratt because of the additive affect, then what is faced down the road for the folks that are still trying to have a surface water supply with the District boundaries is that now the pressure on their water and forcing them, even taking their water, because condemnation of water is certainly quite possible by municipalities. Dr. Titus said that things are not going to happen right away for maybe decades. It’s going to look really wonderful. Albuquerque gets to grow and Socorro gets water that it is not now getting. Down the road these things are all going to have their cumulative affect and the affect is going to be to reduce the amount of water that’s in the Rio Grande.