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Aquifer Mapping Program Models Pecos Groundwater System

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3D model of the Pecos Slope region showing the aquifer systems in relation to landsurface topography and the geology of the subsurface.
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Map showing locations of the Permian Aquifer System, Pecos Valley Alluvial Aquifer, and Southern High Plains Aquifer System in southeast New Mexico modeled by this project.

Southeast NM
— November 3, 2020

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Aquifer Mapping Program recently published a three-dimensional model of the groundwater system extending from the crest of the Sacramento Mountains east to the Texas state line.

“Our goal was to make a product that everyone could use, whether that’s a well-owner wanting to visualize and understand where his or her water comes from, or a groundwater modeler wanting a hydrogeologic framework to implement into a project,” said Bureau Hydrogeologist Marissa Fichera.

The project used water level and water quality data that was digitized into the computer program ArcGIS to produce 3D models for the Pecos Valley Alluvium, Southern High Plains, and Permian Aquifer systems. This region was chosen as the first target of a long-term project to produce models for all large groundwater basins in New Mexico because of the wealth of subsurface geologic data available in thousands of oil and gas well logs. The water resources in this area are under intense use and management due to the presence of large agricultural operations, cattle and dairy industries, and oil and gas extraction.

“I’d say the main challenge was finding data, compiling it, and organizing it into usable formats. We used everything from hand-drawn contours, to geologic cross-sections, to geologic formation picks from databases created by agencies in other states,” said Fichera. “The data is usually out there somewhere. Finding it takes patience.”

This study focused on water data from the last decade, ensuring the model and maps depict the current status of the aquifers. Previously available groundwater maps were often outdated, hampering regional planning and project development.

“One of the results of this study was a current estimate of the volume of water in each aquifer, which is invaluable data when making water-policy and regional water planning decisions,” said Aquifer Mapping Program Manager Laila Sturgis. “We also envision that this model could be revisited in the future with new water level and water quality data, allowing this product to stay informative as conditions change.”

Data available in the models can improve well drilling success and reduce oil and gas well interference with freshwater zones. The models can also serve as the basis for regional and site-specific studies, and assist decision-makers with water planning policy.

The next 3D model is already under development and will focus on the Delaware Basin located directly south of the region modeled in this study. The Delaware Basin hydrogeologic framework will be developed in cooperation with the Oil Conservation Division in the New Mexico Energy, Mineral, and Natural Resources Department. The model will assist with regulations in an area of heavy oil and gas activity.

This project received joint funding from the Healy Foundation and the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Aquifer Mapping Program.