Wednesday, November 24, 2010

OPINION: A Bathtub Full of Marbles

Magdalena Potluck
By Don Wiltshire

“First, fill your bathtub with marbles.” That’s how Frank Titus, the Grandfather of New Mexico Hydrology, invited us to think about the life-giving aquifer to our west.  This was at our last “Water” meeting of the year at the Magdalena Public Library. What an excellent way to get a grasp on the serious impact that the San Augustin Ranch’s “water grab” could have on all of us.
Make sure that the stopper is closed, then fill the tub with water. There you have a good model of the San Augustin Basin, the water table below the ground level and the ratio of water to soil; about 15 to 25 percent.
Now drain the tub, take the marbles out and give them back to your kids. Next, fill your tub with sand; yes, Magdalena “sand” will do. Add water and, Viola!, an even more perfect representation of the aquifer. Again, the water filling the spaces between the sand is about 15  to 25 percent of the volume of your tub.
To complete our model, leave the stopper slightly loose so that some water slowly leaks out of the tub.  This represents the water that leaks out of the San Augustin Basin, mostly into Alamosa Creek and perhaps the Gila River. Turn the spigot on so that the water table remains constant. The recharge of rainwater and snow melt is represented by the water trickling out of your spigot.
In “real” life, in the big basin to our west, this volume of water has been calculated to be about 100 thousand acre/feet of water per year. This is rain and snow melt that hasn’t been evaporated or used by the sparse vegetation out on the Plains. This is almost exactly equal to the flow out of the basin and the water used by the ranchers and villages. This is shown to be true because of the almost static water table, at an elevation of 6800 feet, 40 to 60 feet below ground level near Horse Springs and about 400 feet below ground level near Datil. Some of the wells have been monitored for the past 30 years and have maintained a constant water level.  Nature and human-kind in perfect balance.
Now picture, if you will, Bruno’s 37 wells pumping like crazy and sending 54 thousand acre/feet of water per year “over the hill” and into the Rio Grande. This represents more than half of the recharge rate for the entire San Augustin Plains. What do you think will happen to the water table? What do you think will happen to our wells and water supply? You are correct! Can the situation be made any clearer? I think not!
That is why the New Mexico Environmental Law Center Attorney Bruce Frederick’s motion to dismiss this application is so important to us. It would, in effect, put the entire hearing on hold while the legality of the application was considered. It could save us years of time and legal expenses: the cost of getting the bathtub, the marbles and the water to the hearing floor and the years of being cross examined by John Draper’s team of Geologostitutes and Hydroligistitutes who will be representing Bruno’s plans so well.
As it stands right now, the entire matter could have been resolved by the State Engineer, an appointee by the Governor, by a simple thumbs up or down on the application, were it not for the protestants who have thrown a fairly large wrench into Bruno’s plans. The 20 legal teams and the 129 individuals must stick together and pool their resources if we are to win this case. It was funny and strangely sad to watch 20 lawyers tripping over one another at the preliminary hearing a couple of weeks ago. This has got to be a nightmare for the Litigation Unit. It was also a nightmare for us when John Draper was asked who he was representing: “I’m not going to disclose that information at this time.”
What can the rest of us do? Learn all you can about the impact this will have on our community and our future generations in New Mexico. Write your representatives. Fundraise. I can see “Cast Your Bread Upon Our Waters” bake sales in our future. Discuss the issue with your friends and neighbors. I still find community members who have no idea that this threat is hanging over our heads.
Here are some things to keep your eye on: When Susana Martinez takes over the Governor’s office in January, will she appoint a new State Engineer? Will the new State Engineer be more or less amenable to Bruno’s plans? Will the term “beneficial use” be expanded to include Bruno’s deep pockets and the fear that New Mexico has of not meeting its Water Compact agreement with Texas?
Warning! This column is protected by the new Norton Anti-Editing software package.

If you have any comments, problems, solutions, upcoming events or a plumber who can clear my bathtub drain of sand and marbles, contact me, Don Wiltshire, at

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