Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the strategic water supply a little more than a month before the session began. This gave limited time for community groups and advocates to really study […]

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the strategic water supply a little more than a month before the session began. This gave limited time for community groups and advocates to really study the proposal.

“It had been very fast-tracked,” Julia Bernal, with Pueblo Action Alliance and the No False Solutions Coalition, said. “She barely announced this initiative in December.”

That meant there wasn’t a chance for interim legislative committees to discuss the proposal in depth or for what Bernal describes as meaningful stakeholder engagement and tribal engagement.

Ultimately, the groups that make up the No False Solutions Coalition felt that there were too many questions to support the legislation that finally took form with mere days left of the session. 

Essentially, the strategic water supply is intended to reduce demands on freshwater resources by providing treated brackish or produced water for industrial purposes. The most controversial aspect of that proposal is the produced water, which is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction. While produced water has been used in other states outside of the oil and gas industry, advocates have concerns about potential consequences and say the scientific evidence does not show that it can be treated to a point that it is safe to use.

Initially, the funding for the strategic water supply was included in a capital outlay bill. But it was stripped out of that legislation with only days left of the session.

The clock was ticking when SB 294 took shape, removing produced water and focusing on brackish supplies.

“We were glad to see the proposal move through committee,” New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Matt Maez said. “The discussions around this proposal shared common themes from all those engaged – we need to protect and conserve our limited freshwater, we need to continue to develop our clean energy economy, and we need to ensure there is a just transition for communities. The diversity of opinion on how we achieve these goals was the subject of a productive debate during the legislation session.”

It took two attempts to get SB 294 through the Senate Conservation Committee and, when it did pass, the committee passed it without a recommendation. That was on Wednesday, with only a day left of the session.

SB 294 was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which never heard the bill.

“We were glad to see that the bill didn’t pass because we think that in order to do something of this magnitude, it requires a lot of scientific study, a lot of data and a lot more discussion with affected communities” Sarah Knopp with Amigos Bravos said. “ In particular, we don’t know how much water is in the deep aquifers that are under consideration for the extraction of brackish water below 2500 feet.”

In addition to uncertainty about how much brackish water is available in the deep aquifers, Knopp said there are also structural and procedural questions about the strategic water supply such as the processes that New Mexico would go through to contract with companies to extract and treat the water.

But while the session was progressing, the New Mexico Environment Department wasn’t just sitting and waiting for the legislature to make a decision.

In January, NMED sent out a request for information. The proposed strategic water supply concept centers around the state contracting with companies to treat brackish or produced water. Then the state would essentially sell that treated water.

Maez said that the agency will continue with the RFI and responses remain due on March 31.

“The information will help the Environment Department gain the necessary insight to bring this program the necessary funding in a future legislative session,” Maez said. “Until that time, the Environment Department will work within its authority to continue to develop science-based rules for water treatment and reuse and assist the clean energy sector and advanced manufacturing industries expand in New Mexico in a manner that preserves freshwater resources.”

But answering all the questions that environmental advocates have will be a challenge for NMED.

Knopp said that brackish water could be a part of the solution to the state’s water challenges in the future. But, in order to have the answers to the various questions by next year, the legislature would need to provide more funding through the Water Data Act. She said that did not get the amount of funding that was requested.

Without more funding, she said New Mexico won’t know how much water is actually in those deep, brackish aquifers.

Knopp said a future bill should include opportunities for robust community input as well as the ability for communities to object to brackish water extraction operations.

Bernal said that any time a non-renewable resource is turned into a commodity, the market will eventually lead to overexploitation.

Brackish water is often found in aquifers so deep that the surface water cannot recharge them.

She said that overexploitation could have environmental consequences such as land subsidence, sinkholes or brackish water mixing with vital freshwater resources.

“There’s just a chain of things that I see happening if we’re going to open this door for a new market,” she said.

One of the questions that remains unanswered is how companies that treat the water will dispose of the brine that is left over.

Another question that Bernal mentioned is whether there has been adequate hydrological and aquifer mapping to ensure that extraction of brackish water will not infringe upon other water rights, including Native American water rights.

Bernal also had concerns about the end use of the treated water. One potential use that Lujan Grisham and NMED Secretary James Kenney have mentioned is hydrogen energy production, which the groups involved in the No False Solutions Coalition oppose.

“The strategic water supply isn’t solely about conserving water for the future or offsetting the demand of fresh water,” Bernal said. “It’s about supplying resources for hydrogen energy and developing that economy like here in New Mexico.”

Ultimately, Bernal said it is important to remember the source of the treated brackish or produced water. If produced water is used, the initial source may ultimately be the freshwater resources that are used in processes like hydraulic fracturing. 

“The source of it is important to recognize before we’re even talking about what we’re going to do with the treated water that the strategic water supply is proposing,” she said.

When it comes to produced water, it is typically disposed of using injection wells. That process has been linked to increased seismic activity in the Permian Basin.

“We need to dramatically reduce the production of produced water,” Knopp said. “In other words, we need to dramatically reduce oil and gas’s use of our state’s water resources so that we’re not compounding the problem year after year by increasing production.”

Knopp said that scientists have not found a safe way to inject produced water.

“We feel that this is a problem that industry has created,” she said. “And science hasn’t produced a solution yet but for right now the best solution is to stop generating more produced water.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report