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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Transboundary water supplies target of institute's research

Are the United States and Mexico running out of water along their international border? Scientifically, researchers don't know because little is known about the common underground basins both countries tap into. There is only speculation and theory on how large, how deep, what is the directional flow and what is the quality of the water. Most importantly, researchers don't have specific measurements on how fast the supply of underground water is being used.

"One of the greatest problems with water along the border in southern New Mexico is that we don't know much about our aquifers," said Karl Wood, director of New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) at New Mexico State University, in describing the results of a field meeting they hosted for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in 2002.

Researchers will now begin to find answers to these crucial questions regarding underground water supplies with a recent appropriation of $500,000 from the "United States-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act" created by Senate Bill 214, which became Public Law No. 109-448 on Dec. 22, 2006. Bingaman and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., were the sponsors of the bill.

The Act authorizes $50 million for fiscal years 2007 through 2016 to allow the Secretary of Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey to cooperate with the Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas Water Resources Research Institutes, state water resource agencies, and other relevant entities to conduct hydrogeologic characterization, mapping and modeling programs for priority transboundary aquifers. The Mesilla and Hueco Basins are the designated priority aquifers in southern New Mexico, west Texas and Mexico.

Even though the Act was passed in 2006 no funds were appropriated in fiscal year 2007 because of the continuing resolution. Some funds were appropriated for 2008 and this has allowed the program to begin some startup work in the Mesilla Basin aquifer. The funds are shared between the three states, USGS, water science centers and the three states' water resources research institutes.

In future years and with sufficient appropriations for the program the WRRIs can provide funds to state water agencies, Sandia National Laboratory and other agencies including counterparts in Mexico.

"We've got three tasks that we have initiated this first year: First, is to review some of the previous work and existing information and assess the data gaps. Second, we will review and update previous hydrogeologic work that has been done in the U.S. as well as explore its expansion into Mexico. And the third task will initiate a review of previous groundwater modeling programs. We want to assess which model would be the best model to use for the whole basin, which includes the Mexican part," said Bobby Creel, associate director at the New Mexico WRRI.

Southern New Mexico, west Texas, Arizona and northern Mexico are considered one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S and Mexico. The El Paso region alone is projected to get an influx of 65,000 people by the year 2013 due to the military's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) figures.

"Water is a major factor in the economic development of these areas," Wood said. Groundwater is used for all of the drinking water in southern New Mexico, all of Juarez and half of the El Paso area. The use of groundwater for irrigation is also a factor due to the continuing drought that has affected these areas, he said.

When future allotments of the transboundary money are released, other underground water basins will be studied and more extensive analysis done on the priority aquifers, Wood said.