Op-Ed: From Scarcity to Sustainability: New Mexico’s Vision for Water Reuse

NMED Deputy Secretary requests public participation for hearing on ground and surface water protection


As a lifelong advocate for bold action to address the climate crisis and a state employee tasked with helping to build a more resilient New Mexico, I understand the critical importance of preserving our water resources today for the sake of our future. In New Mexico, a state renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and arid climate, water is not merely a resource but the lifeblood of our communities and key industries like ranching and farming. As the regulators responsible for the quality of our state’s waters, we take our duty to protect human health and the environment seriously. That means proposing science-driven solutions that address the challenges posed by climate change and drought.

Protecting our water future isn’t just about preventing leaks; it’s also about extracting every drop of value from each drop of water to alleviate the strain on our fresh, potable water resources. Water reuse is a critical component of building a thriving New Mexico for the next 50 years and beyond.

The truth is that New Mexicans see the benefits of water reuse every day. Treated domestic wastewater keeps golf courses green, crops irrigated, and drinking water in your home. In fact, whenever you see a purple water pipe at a city park, that pipe is transporting treated reused domestic wastewater. Those purple pipes are responsible for irrigating more than 15,000 acres of parks, landscaping and cropland using domestic wastewater and through permits issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

Most recently, NMED has developed draft rules for water reuse, including creating safeguards to test and develop new treatments for produced water—water that is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction. These draft rules encourage closed-loop use of treated, produced water for purposes such as solar manufacturing or renewable hydrogen generation, as long as not a drop of that produced water is released to the ground. Such projects will also advance research on how we can clean up contaminated water from all sources, not just oil and gas.

But NMED’s proposed rules go beyond determining which uses are appropriate for reused water, they also close a loophole that could have allowed the federal government the ability to issue a discharge permit for produced water in New Mexico. NMED’s rules will ensure that the decision on which water to discharge to our precious streams, rivers, and groundwater will live here, in New Mexico, rather in Washington, D.C.

There is considerable misinformation and fearmongering about the proposed regulations being circulated by groups, especially surrounding produced water. Let me be very clear – this rule does not allow produced water, treated or otherwise, to be released into our rivers, lakes, or groundwater. NMED’s commitment to ensuring that New Mexico has clean, protected water supplies is unwavering, and this proposed rule is a testament to that commitment.

The Water Quality Control Commission is holding a public hearing on the Ground and Surface Water Protection—Supplemental Requirements for Water Reuse (20.6.8 NMAC) beginning May 13 in Room 317 at the State Capitol. Your presence at the hearing is crucial, as it allows you to witness the hard work being done by NMED to ensure the future protection of water supplies and the preservation of our precious water supplies. For more information, please visit https://www.env.nm.gov/opf/water-quality-control-commission.

Sydney Lienemann is the deputy cabinet secretary for the state environment department

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