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NM Political Report highlights Water Data Act

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Bureau hydrogeologist Ethan Mamer collecting well data.

New Mexico
— March 4, 2020

The Bureau of Geology’s role in monitoring the decline of the Ogallala aquifer in eastern New Mexico is the subject of an NM Political Report article by Kendra Chamberlain. The aquifer's decline serves as an example of the value of the Water Data Act.

The Ogallala aquifer stretches across the mid-west from North Dakota to New Mexico and serves as the primary source of water for key agricultural areas. In eastern New Mexico, portions of the aquifer are shallower and subject to rapid depletion.

In 2016, Bureau of Geology researchers evaluated the expected lifespan of the aquifer in Curry and Roosevelt Counties. They found that some areas of the aquifer had just three to five years left before running dry if pumping continues at current levels, potentially leaving farmers and residents without a local water source.

This is where the Water Data Act comes into play.

The Water Data Act passed by the state legislature in 2019 (HB 651) is a multi-year initiative to develop an integrated approach to collecting, sharing, and using water data from various state, federal, and nongovernmental agencies. Measurements collected may include streamflow, precipitation, groundwater use and level, municipal and industrial water use, reservoir and irrigation system operations, water rights, and ecological data related to riparian and aquatic systems.

“By sharing our data, it’s going to be more easily put toward operational decisions and broader state-wide decision making,” Stacy Timmons, Associate Director for Hydrogeology Programs at the Bureau of Geology, says in the article.

Data available through a newly-launched web portal can help decision-makers develop plans to deal with potential water shortages, such as declines in the Ogallala aquifer in eastern New Mexico. These plans will likely include building resiliency into New Mexico’s water systems to accommodate uncertainty in a warming climate.

The Bureau’s role in implementing the Water Data Act is to convene the directing agencies, which includes the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Office of the State Engineer, New Mexico Environment Department, and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The goal of the group is to make water data more accessible, findable, and useful through an integrated water data service constructed with the help of the University of New Mexico’s Earth Data Analysis Center, Duke University’s Internet of Water, and Sandia National Laboratories.

Funding for the Water Data Act at the Bureau of Geology is currently provided by legislative funds and the Healy Foundation. This fund is open to contributions from gifts, grants or donations.

Contact Stacy Timmons at stacy.timmons@nmt.edu for more information.