Alibi V.14 No.31 • Aug 4-10, 2005 


Water and Gas

Dear Alibi,

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has been fighting to protect New Mexico's special natural places since 1997. In that time we've worked hard to successfully protect some of New Mexico's wildest public lands. For the last four years, we have been fighting to protect the beautiful grasslands of Otero Mesa. The Tularosa Basin 40-Year Water Plan has shown that under the Otero Mesa lies New Mexico's largest untapped aquifer, known as the Salt Basin Aquifer. It is a fresh water aquifer containing at least 15 million acre-feet of potable water and as much as 30 million acre-feet of recoverable water. It is also a sensitive shallow water aquifer with a large recharge area stretching from the Sacramento Mountains.

The Otero Mesa also possesses the largest Chihuahuan desert grassland in America, where New Mexico's largest genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope roam. It is home to unique species of blacktail prairie dogs, raptors and hundreds of species of migratory songbirds. Within Otero Mesa's core lies the beautiful Alamo Mountain, where thousands of petroglyphs are found, telling the tale of Native Americans who once lived there.

In addition, the state BLM office, the agency that is charge of these lands and who has studied this area extensively, estimates that there is very little potential for natural gas in Otero Mesa. This underreported fact set the stage for the latest oil and gas lease sale of Otero Mesa Grassland that only drew one oil company bid, for a whopping $2 an acre. One bidder, $2 an acre—does it sound like the oil companies believe there is any oil or gas there?

In spite of this minimal resource, the federal land managers are willing to risk polluting this massive aquifer and fragmenting the rare grassland in search of it. As New Mexicans, we know that nothing is more precious to us than our water, let alone 15 million acre-feet worth. Certainly folks in Alamogordo and Otero County, who are used to water rationing and are exploring desalinization opportunities, can appreciate how important this water resource is, especially considering it is located literally in their backyards.

Our organization has stated that the Salt Basin aquifer could hold water for New Mexicans for 100 years. This fact is proven by using the numbers found in the 40-year Tularosa-Salt Basin Plan that is available online. We have also explained in more depth our analysis at My organization and I are proud to be fighting this battle for New Mexicans, our precious water supply and our rare grasslands and pronghorn hunting habitat. Our efforts are as strong as ever, and the battle to protect New Mexico's largest untapped aquifer is gaining momentum daily. Just last week, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman requested an extensive U.S. Geological Survey study of this sensitive aquifer. In his request, the senator states: "In an arid state like New Mexico, we simply cannot take chances with a water supply as valuable as the Salt Aquifer."

We ask all New Mexicans to join us in this critical fight to protect our water, our beautiful grassland and prime pronghorn hunting habitat, and New Mexico's way of life. For the few drops of natural gas that may be under the Otero Mesa, these resources are simply not worth destroying forever.

Stephen Capra
Executive Director
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

Real Side Redux

Dear Alibi,

I would like to clarify some of the statements in Jim Scarantino's opinion column "Muddy Otero Mesa" [The Real Side, July 21-27]. Mr. Scarantino claims the environmentalists are playing the water card to block oil and gas development on BLM lands.

The first statement, "most of the aquifer is actually in Texas, where irrigation transformed Dell City into an agricultural oasis," implies the New Mexico side is insignificant. The fact is the New Mexico side also has a significant agricultural oasis in the Crow Flat area where land is private ownership, although the majority of the New Mexico side of the Salt Basin is BLM lands that have not yet been developed for water resources. Coincidently, the New Mexico side of the Salt Basin contains the largest volume of fresh groundwater, and the agriculture in Dell City uses slightly-saline groundwater.

The second rash of statements by Mr. Scarantino are related to the claims by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and others on the volume of fresh water beneath Otero Mesa and Salt Basin in New Mexico. He simply omitted the information I told him about the Tularosa Basin and Salt Basin Regional Water Plan. In addition, Mr. Scarantino misstated my comments about Sandia National Labs by saying, "Steve Finch ... vetoed that figure because he felt there was a conflict with Sandia doing such a study," and "Finch does not endorse Capra's figures." I merely stated that I have not seen the Sandia study, and that I did not perform the particular analysis of water available for a certain population. What I have done is estimated the amount of total and recoverable fresh water in the Salt Basin, and what I found is that approximately 15 million acre-feet of recoverable fresh ground water is very significant for the water-poor State of New Mexico. Estimated use by a certain population is irrelevant.

Mr. Scarantino failed to ask me if there have been detailed studies of the Salt Basin aquifer that would substantiate 1) the volume of fresh water in the Salt Basin-Otero Mesa area, 2) how robust the aquifer is, 3) the importance of the Salt Basin water to New Mexico's future and 4) how susceptible the aquifer is to contamination from potential oil and gas development. In my opinion, the "Real Side" was not reported in the Alibi.

Steven T. Finch, Jr.
V.P., Senior Hydrogeologist-Geochemist
John Shomaker & Associates, Inc.

Scarantino responds: Activists took Mr. Finch's generally accepted estimate of the volume of potable water under Otero Mesa, doubled it in t

Better Odds

Dear Alibi,

I attended a global climate change conference in Albuquerque on Saturday (7/30) where the discussion focused on Governor Richardson's Executive Order creating the Climate Change Action Council and Advisory Group. Congratulations to Stan and Ann Euston and the other organizers of this very informative and successful event. I learned that on a per capita basis, New Mexico produces twice the national average of greenhouse emissions and they will increase by 23 percent above 2000 levels by the year 2020 if we don't take action now. I also learned that the New Mexico Climate Change website is

The issue of global warming and climate change really hit home for me in June this year. Six years earlier, I had taken my mother on an Alaskan cruise to see the glaciers. This year I took my granddaughter to see those same glaciers and they had noticeably retreated!

When I learned I was going to be a grandmother, I gave up smoking to increase my odds of being around longer to care for and watch my grandchildren grow. Now I realize quitting smoking isn't enough. I'm going to have to fight global warming so my granddaughter has better odds too.

Lora Anne Lucero

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