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Aquifer Storage and Recovery: Lessons From the Western States

Kevin M. O'Brien, Proceedings of 45th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1999)

The idea of artificially storing water underground is not new. In the Kara Kum Plain, a vast desert located on the southeast shore of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, nomads have for centuries augmented aquifer recharge during in-frequent rainfall events through a system of hand-dug wells, cased with locally available grasses and camel wool.1 In western India, tribal communities have long practiced artificial recharge through the collection of rainwater in large village tanks, percolation from which displaces brackish native groundwater in order to provide a drinking water supply.2 In this country, artificial recharge projects have been in operation for the better part of a century.3

Legal commentators4 and governmental commissions5 have long extolled the virtues of artificial recharge projects. Such projects are typically less expensive and less environmentally intrusive than surface reservoir projects. They also yield an important side benefit in the form of water conservation as losses through evaporation are decreased. In addition to water supply benefits, artificial recharge projects can be used to achieve other objectives such as improvement of water quality, prevention of seawater intrusion, reduction of subsidence, and hydraulic control of contaminant plumes.

Despite the extensive development of artificial recharge projects, much legal uncertainty rema