A Bernalillo County judge has denied an application to pump groundwater for an expansive housing and golf course development, saying the proposal failed to consider climate change and was not in the best interests of water conservation in New Mexico.
The proposal from Aquifer Science, a Nevada-based company, sought to obtain 350 acre-feet of water per year from the Sandia Basin in the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains for use on the proposed Campbell Ranch Master Plan Project. The project spans just over 8,000 acres and would include more than 4,000 housing units that could be occupied by roughly 10,000 residents, plus commercial space, a resort “element” and two golf courses.
In an opinion issued Tuesday, however, 2nd Judicial District Judge C. Shannon Bacon denied the application, saying “it is not consistent with conservation.”
“The data surrounding climate change indicates that the availability of surface water will decline during the life of this proposed development,” she wrote in her decision. Aquifer Science’s “failure to include this in its analysis, suggests a lack of long-term planning regarding conservation.”
Bacon, recently named to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, noted that University of New Mexico professor and climate science David Gutzler had testified that the state will face increasingly extreme drought as the climate continues to warm from greenhouse gases.
“These droughts will extend to the Sandia Basin and the area of Application,” she wrote. Bacon said that not only had the application for water use failed to be forward-thinking, but it likely would impair at least 100 local wells. The court disagreed with the finding reached by Aquifer Science and the Office of the State Engineer that the proposal would impact fewer than a dozen wells.
Numerous well owners, as well as Bernalillo County, objected to the groundwater application.
“Our community is gratified,” by the decision, Mark Moll, a landowner in San Pedro Creek Estates in the Sandia Mountains, said in statement. He called the application a “water grab” and “an attempt by an out-of-state water speculator to exploit our precious ground water.”
The debate over whether the state should allow water to be pumped and used for the Campbell Ranch development has been going on for a decade. An original application from the company, filed in 2009, sought 1,500 acre-feet per year used on 25,000 acres of land, but that was later amended to seek just 717 acre-feet of water per year over roughly half the acreage.
The Office of the State Engineer denied the application in 2014 but reversed course when new State Engineer Tom Blaine took office later that year.
The amount of water was again lowered in its proposed usage for the 2017 application. Still, Bacon said the company’s plans to minimize and reuse waste water would take years to achieve and the court did not believe it would be sufficient to justify conservative water use.
Attorneys for the state engineer did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.