An order by the State Engineer closing the Sandia Basin to new appropriations of groundwater.

Deep Well Protest, which opposes the long-delayed master plan development of Campbell Ranch, in a labyrinthine court case involving water rights in the area, sent out a celebratory email to its supporters March 15. “The closure order means that new applications for commercial groundwater appropriations will not be accepted, thus preventing long expensive court proceedings regarding potential new withdrawals,” the email says, noting that the order doesn’t impact the pending lawsuit with Aquifer Science and its parent company, Vidler Water.

A press release from State Engineer John D’Antonio, Jr. says the order is in place to “protect the groundwater resources of the Sandia Underground Water Basin and a portion of the Rio Grande Underground Water Basin located in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties east of the Sandia Mountains” after a study of water level decline in existing wells.

According to the State Engineer, that rate of decline exceeds allowable levels. “Based on a sample of 122 Sandia Basin wells, the average rate of water level decline exceeds 2.5 feet per year (100 feet in 40 years),” the report says, adding, “The State Engineer has closed several basins if the life expectancy of numerous wells is 40 years or less.”

The report goes on, “The Sandia Basin is densely populated with subdivisions and many lots remain undeveloped. It is uncertain what the magnitude of hydrologic effects will be when all parcels are developed. However, full development will create new stresses on water availability, increase water level decline and more existing wells will lose the ability to sustain production for forty years.”

The report says that the Sandia Basin contributes groundwater to both the Estancia Basin and the Rio Grande Basin, meaning that decreased water in the Sandia Basin would impact both. In addition the Rio Grande Basin feeds the Rio Grande, which is fully appropriated.

According to the report, some parts of the Sandia Basin have seen declines in excess of 10 feet a year.

Water level data for the San Pedro Creek Estates subdivision were also evaluated, the report says.

“The closure order assures that groundwater resources and sustained well production are protected for existing water right owners and allows for reasonable economic development for new domestic uses,” D’Antonio said.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty supports the move, according to a press release from the county.

“Water level data from the Bernalillo County Water Level Monitoring Program, as studied by the Office of the State Engineer, indicates that the average rate of water level decline in the closure area currently exceeds 2.5 feet per year, ” Pyskoty said. “That’s very concerning for residents in my district. Those of us who live in the East Mountains are breathing a sigh of relief knowing the Office of the State Engineer has taken an important step to limit unsustainable use of water in the Sandia Basin.”

“Sandoval County supports this move designed to protect the Sandia and Rio Grande basins and the residents of both Bernalillo and Sandoval counties,” said Sandoval County manager Wayne Johnson.

The order does not affect existing domestic wells, or the ability to drill new or replacement domestic and livestock wells, and does not impact existing water rights holders in the area. It also does not impact existing operations of public water systems like Entranosa Water.

According to Deep Well Protest, the order doesn’t impact the pending case with Aquifer Science—except for one major detail. “With the issuance of this order, we have resolved issues with the OSE and they have dropped their appeals of the water decision,” the email to supporters says, adding, “With the OSE no longer part of the case, Aquifer Science is now liable for the entire award of costs. … [I]t could be years before any award is received. … We anticipate the appeals process will take several years.”

Pyskoty noted that the closure order marks a change in the administration of the Sandia Basin. “I would like to express my appreciation to the county’s Natural Resources staff and to all East Mountain residents who have voluntarily allowed county staff to monitor those individual domestic wells and to all those who have participated in the county water conservation incentives,” she said.