Hot Springs case, part 4: technical memorandum by Hydrologic Consultant Tom Myers

by Kathleen Sloan | April 1, 2020
5 min read
A hydrologist working for one of the protestants in the hot springs case draws a dire picture of the hot springs, stating it’s over-appropriated by three times the natural discharge, depleting the resource that takes 4,000 to 11,500 years to produce. And this does not include a new appropriation for 400 acre feet a year. 

The Cloverleaf Trust, doing business as the Riverbend Hot Springs, applied for a new appropriation of 400 acre feet a year of hot springs water about three years ago. Of the seven parties protesting the new appropriation is T or C Properties, doing business as the Sierra Grande Lodge. It hired Hydrologic Consultant Tom Myers, Ph.D., of Reno, Nev., to write a technical memorandum to determine if there is enough hot water to support the new appropriation and if it will impair existing water-right holders. 

Myers’s conclusions are, “First there is no water to be appropriated within the basin. Even without considering irrigation rights, existing groundwater rights exceed discharge from the [hot water] basin by at least three times. The proposed groundwater right would substantially increase the overdraft.” 

Myers also said Cloverleaf’s technical memorandum, written by James Witcher, a geologist in Las Cruces, miscalculated the hot springs basin recharge and discharge because it failed to consider climate change. 

The “travel time from the point of recharge to discharge,” Myers said, is about 4,000 to 11,500 years, based on “uncorrected” carbon dating done by New Mexico Tech Earth and Environmental Professor Mark Person in a 2013 study for the City of Truth or Consequences. 

“The existing discharge is a product of a wetter period with more recharge thousands of years ago and climate change going into the future will further decrease the recharge,” Myers said. 

A Jan. 29, 2019 court decision ruled that climate change must be part of a new-water acquisition calculation, Myers said, citing Aquifer Science, LLC, v. Scott A. Verhines, NM State Engineer, et al.

Myers’s second conclusion is that pumping 400 acre feet a year from the Riverbend’s 240-foot-deep well will hurt the other commercial bath houses, depriving them of their beneficial use, temperature being part of their senior water right.  

Pumping “would draw a very large amount of hot water directly from the source of geothermal water that supports the heat for other wells within the Hot Springs District of Truth or Consequences,” Myers said. 

The 400-acre-feet-a-year “diversion is for much more water than is pulled from the basin by any other commercial well, which would have an inordinate effect on the distribution of heat supporting the geothermal water,” Myers said. 

Speeding up the discharge of hot water from deep below by pumping, tapping that deep reserve before it rises naturally to shallower wells is not the only cooling effect the new diversion will have, Myers said. 

Water from the Rio Grande will seep into the aquifer, also cooling the commercial baths, thus depriving them of heat. 

“The subsequent drawdown would pull water from the Rio Grande,” Myers said, “which will mix with and cool the geothermal water supporting existing uses.”

Myers arrived at his conclusions by creating a “Conceptual Flow Model” of the Hot Springs Underground Water Basin. He reviewed the literature on the basin, considered “details of the existing wells and diversions,” and “downloaded recorded groundwater rights and points of diversion data” from the Office of the State Engineer’s website. 

Among the literature, he cites C. V. Theis, who did a four-year study of the hot springs ending in 1941. He also cites Person, who studied it in 2013. Myers compared their recharge and discharge calculations, separated by about 70 years. 

Theis said the discharge from the hot springs was “2,100 to 2,534 acre feet per annum,” Myers noted, and Person said discharge ranged from “1,738 to 2,389 acre feet per annum.” 

The decreased discharge could be due to “differences in the water level in the Rio Grande or substantial pumping of the geothermal resource,” Myers said, “which could change the gradient controlling groundwater discharge to the Rio Grande.” 

Myers only gives Person’s recharge figure, not Theis’s, which is 2,461 acre feet a year from the deep bedrock portion of the aquifer, the source of the hot water, which “approximates the discharge to the Rio Grande,” Myers said. 

Myers compares the water temperatures Theis and Person recorded, which are 3 degrees to 10 degrees cooler than 70 years ago. He theorizes the water cooled for four reasons:

  1. The wells were deeper in Theis’s time. 
  2. Pumping has “probably depleted the heat source below its point of discharge because deep geothermal groundwater production creates a drawdown, which increases the gradient for flow into the bedrock aquifer from above,” Myers said. 
  3. “This gradient change either draws water from above, including from the Rio Grande, into the alluvium and bedrock, or reduces discharge from bedrock into alluvium and the Rio Grande,” Myers said. 
  4. Different well locations were tested, since those originally measured are no longer in use. 

Myers added up all the water-right appropriations in the Hot Springs Underground Water Basin and found “More than 12,200 acre feet per annum is claimed for diversion.”

Even if you subtract the 5,908 acre feet a year appropriated for irrigation, “which is probably supported by a different groundwater source,” Myers said, “groundwater rights exceed 6,300 acre feet per annum. Groundwater rights exceed the total discharge from the geothermal aquifer by approximately three times.” 

And this doesn’t take into account climate change, Myers said, which means the over-appropriation is drawing on recharge more plentiful 4,000 to 11,500 years ago that has since diminished. 

“There is no water available for additional appropriation,” Myers concluded. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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