Existing regulations do not go far enough to protect this precious resource. As commissioner, I’ll beef up these policies and drive new legislation that sets a statewide standard for groundwater quality on state trust lands.

Several massive aquifers need to be specifically addressed in this conversation including the Ogallala Aquifer. Another sits under Otero Mesa, which is in the process of being explored for both oil & gas resources as well as rare earth minerals. It is arguably the largest, purest, and most untapped aquifer in the southwest. A second massive deepwater saline aquifer – one of the nation’s largest – exists in the southeast corner of the state. Because this aquifer exists beyond a depth currently regulated by state water statute, there is massive potential.

There is no specific NM water law regulating nor adjudicating deep aquifer saline water in New Mexico. Solar technology now exists to desalinate water at reasonable cost, so a smart investor could come in and do just that.

The State Land Office – and a shrewd Commissioner – could capitalize on this resource. In fact, an entire agricultural investment could happen on state lands for water-smart crops like hemp. But at what cost to surrounding freshwater aquifers like the Ogallala? A deep and thorough analysis of this issue needs to begin immediately so a well intended water project with unintended consequences doesn’t happen.

A third consideration also needs to be addressed in the Plains of San Agustin. The precedent of large private water users moving vast quantities of water from one basin to another have local, regional, and even western consequences that need to be carefully addressed through planning and policy goals. As with the modernization of all of the State Land Office natural resource management laws and policies, the conservation community needs to sit down and craft a complete new water framework that acts as a new and progressive western water model.