80-Year Water Plan Marred by Amendment to Create $20M Water Pipeline. Plan-Yes, Pipeline-No.

This is an urgent action alert related to an ill-advised inclusion of a $20M water pipeline. This is a complex issue that requires more study. Details and contact info provided. Activist announces primary challenge of Speaker Egolf.

Reminder: Thursday evening potluck, community conversation about non-violent direct action has been postponed to 2020.

EPA & NM Environment Dept. Update on LANL Plume. Wednesday, 5 p.m. Beatrice Martinez Senior Center, 735 Vietnam Veterans Road in Española. On Wednesday, representatives from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Environment Department will hold a community meeting in Española to provide an update on efforts to treat the plume and answer questions. For more on the plume and the meeting, click here for a brief article from today’s New Mexican.

Lyla June Johnston, Indigenous Climate Activist & Poet, Announces Campaign to Challenge NM House Speaker Brian Egolf

All of our readers know Speaker Egolf, but may not be familiar with the challenger, so we will be interviewing Johnston very soon so that you can find out more about her reasons for challenging the Speaker. This will certainly force substantive discussion of climate crisis issues and the role the legislature is playing (or not playing) in addressing the crisis. If you want to hear from the challenger in person, Johnston plans to announce her campaign formally at a press conference Thursday (tomorrow) at 1pm at the Roundhouse Rotunda.

Santa Fe Water Plans & Water Pipeline

Call to Action: Today, Weds., Dec. 11, during the 5pm Santa Fe City Council session, the City Council will vote on an amended resolution introduced by Councilor Carol Romero Wirth, calling for the city to develop an 80-year water security plan — a very good idea, given the likelihood of Santa Fe facing severe drought and soon.

Unfortunately, Councilor Peter Ives amended the resolution to include an approval by the council of a pipeline project that, according to a Sierra Club alert, has been contested by Cochiti Pueblo, traditional communities, the local public, and the environmental community. The amended resolution passed through committee with opposition from Councilor Renee Villarreal, and the City Council plans to vote on it today.

The Public Utilities Committee meeting notice gave no indication that a pipeline was being considered, only that they were discussing a planning process. During the meeting, the committee amended the resolution to include the pipeline, a significant amendment that had not been mentioned in the public notice of the meeting.

Why is the City trying to commit to an expensive pipeline without an objective review and full public participation?

I reached out to Councilor Romero Wirth and she provided a detailed reply outlining many of the issues (see below). But the most important sentence in her response was the first sentence: “This is not a simple issue.”

The city appears to have no firm plan for the pipeline. They have described its purpose in many different ways over the years. All we know is that there are many who assert that it will hurt the Santa Fe river, its people, and ecosystem. Given the admitted complexity of the issue, we are asking you to contact the Mayor and your City Councilor to ask that they approve the 80-year water planning process but remove the amendment introduced by Councilor Ives related to the $20M water pipeline. Contact info is provided at the bottom of this post.

If you want more information about the issue, in addition to Councilor Romero Wirth’s comments below I am including comments from today’s Editorial from the Santa Fe New Mexican; and Esha Chiocchio, Climate Solutions Coordinator for the Santa Fe Watershed Association. In a bizarre twist of fate, I received an alert from the Sierra Club yesterday afternoon, only moments before leaving to serve on a panel at a climate change event at Santa Fe Prep. Both Claudia Borchert County Sustainability Manager and Esha Chiocchio were in attendance. We spoke at length, and the more detailed analysis that follows was informed by those conversations.

The lower Rio Grande – already over allocated  (September, 2019)

From the Santa Fe New Mexican

On Wednesday, the City Council should endorse the creation of the long-term water plan but remove the word “construction” from the resolution. Not because it should not be built but because reasonable opponents still need to be persuaded.

Take up further discussion of the pipeline after the first of the year, but remember this: The concept of diverting water and using a return-flow pipeline is the option that study after study dating to the 1970s has endorsed as both cost-effective and practical. The city still needs to make its case to environmentalists and downstream farmers, showing ways they believe the project would benefit both the environment and downstream acequias. “

From Councilor Carol Romero Wirth:

This is not a simple issue and there is a lot to understand before taking a position. There is also a lot of misunderstanding. I will send some of the fact sheets to give you a start if you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities.  

Currently, the City is NOT using 60% of its San Juan Chama Water. This is our allocation of Colorado River Water, it is imported water owned by the City, and it is moved into the City of Santa Fe Water Supply system through the Buckman Regional Water Treatment Facility. The 60% we do not use is treated and sent down the Santa Fe River below the Paseo Real Water Reclamation Facility. This has been the case since the Buckman Direct Diversion came on line a handful of years ago. This water is not native Santa Fe River water and we would not be diverting the portion of river which is relied upon by downstream users. This water can and should be better used.

The issue of downstream users is also complex. There are many factors impacting the water relied upon by downstream users. Most significantly the County has allowed too many domestic wells in that area, bringing down the water table. They need to work on greater regulation of domestic wells. There is good news in that the prison is no longer using its ground water wells as a source of supply and is moving to surface water. Eldorado is also moving toward coming online to the County system and not relying on ground water, so that will also improve things for downstream users.

In short, there are things that can be done with a variety of water interests to help downstream users, and while this is not necessarily the City’s responsibility, the water division has shown nothing but a willingness to help. Rest assured, the City has and will continue to engage the County in solutions because the County relies on the City for its back-up water supply if the Buckman Regional Water Treatment Facility is inoperable and, as a result, the County is unable to import its share of San Juan Chama Water. (The Buckman Direct Diversion is a joint project of the City and the County to import San Juan Chama Water)

A recent study predicts water supply shortages in the next 30 years as the result of climate change. My planning resolution, with the Ives amendment included, will give the City the opportunity to continue to understand the issues associated with getting return flow credits so that the City can fully utilize its San Juan Chama Water.  Importantly, we can do this in a planning context. It will also help the City understand the different options, value, and resiliency a pipeline can bring to the City’s Water Supply system — gaining return flow credits is just one of several possible options. This is crucial not only for the City but for the County as well. Infrastructure takes years to understand and properly build. There are many permits that will be required and much more work and community engagement that must be completed before any ground is moved. The City is doing the due diligence necessary to make informed choices to have a secure and resilient water supply.  

The City is working on more water conservation — including a five-year water conservation plan being presented to the Water Conservation Committee tomorrow. It will move to the Governing Body after the New Year. We know from recent studies that water conservation alone will not close our future water supply gap. The City is also looking at aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) and is open to watershed health strategies on the lower river as well as the upper Santa Fe River. It also supports low water development.

Finally, the City is also looking at longer term strategies like direct potable reuse (DPR) which may ultimately be the future given climate change. The City of El Paso has gone this route and other cities are looking seriously at this option. In short, the City of Santa Fe is trying to live within its means and current water supply so that we do not impact traditional agricultural communities. If we did not, we would actively be buying pre-1907 water rights at great expense to our water customers to gain more water in our water supply system and thereby drying up their use for agriculture. Hopefully we can avoid doing this.

From the Sierra Club:

The pipeline project will cost nearly $20 million to build with high annual costs to pump and maintain, and will not result in any more physical water for the City. It will  create a “paper water credit,” a transaction for water from the Rio Grande that may not be there in future drought years. This is an expensive short-sighted project that will not lead to long-term water security. Further, the plan would have serious repercussions for the lower Santa Fe River, removing over 50% of the water that currently flows south of Santa Fe, sustaining traditional agricultural communities, Cochiti Pueblo, and a vital river ecosystem along the way.

It is time to call on our City Councilors to vote down the pipeline and vote for real water security by funding a) water conservation, b) advanced wastewater treatment, c) aquifer storage as our “water bank” during drought, d) watershed health, and e) supporting traditional agricultural communities and low water development. Santa Fe cannot plan only for the City without negatively impacting Santa Fe County and surrounding communities. 

Esha Chiocchio, Climate Solutions Coordinator, Santa Fe Watershed Associationfrom her letter to Councilor Villarreal:

I attended the public event last Tuesday to learn about the various proposed options to improve Santa Fe’s water future and give input. Unfortunately, I came away feeling like the decision to build a pipeline was already made and our input wasn’t really taken into consideration. I feel this is an important issue with long-term implications and that there should be a real public discussion and decision-making process. 

When I wrote the Forest and Water Climate Adaptation Plan for Santa Fe, one of the things that stood out most from the climate projections was the anticipated shift from snowfall to rainfall. At first glance, this may not seem very significant, but the implications for the city are huge. Snow essentially stores water so that it can be distributed more evenly throughout the year. Rain, on the other hand, only stays in the watershed a short time and rushes out via our impervious surfaces, arroyos and river. The fast-paced movement of water can cause destructive erosion and flooding and doesn’t give the water as much time to soak back into the aquifer. With so many impervious/paved surfaces and a network of unhealthy arroyos, we are essentially shuttling our precious rainfall straight out of the Santa Fe basin. 

On average, Santa Fe receives 257,000 acre feet of precipitation per year, yet we treat and use about 10,000 acre feet for consumption through our taps. The reality is that we have plenty of water within our watershed, if only we could harness and manage it better. 

For the long-term health of our city, I believe that putting our energy into the permaculture philosophy of “slow it, spread it, sink it” could go a long way. Rather than spending tens of millions of dollars on a pipeline, we could engage a multi-pronged approach that would be technically feasible, cost effective, durable and have societal and environmental benefits. 

Raingardens are an effective first step in slowing water, filtering it through plants, providing food and habitats for wildlife, creating visually appealing gardens and allowing water to soak into the aquifer. In addition to all of these benefits, they reduce the rate of flow into the Santa Fe River, thereby reducing erosion and the fast flows that are scouring out the river bed and can destroy our freshly planted Cottonwoods and Willows. Each Raingarden costs approximately $5000 to build and Andy Otto of the Santa Fe Watershed Association estimates that 50 of these would make a significant difference in improving water filtration, infiltration to the aquifer, supporting plant life, and reducing erosion. The total investment for this beneficial project would be $250,000 and would result in a long-term, low-maintenance, fossil fuel-free system for recharging our aquifer. 

Along our main arroyos, similar measures to those that have been implemented in the SF River could be installed to increase the meander of water to slow it down, spread it out and sink it down. Unfortunately, I do not have estimates for this work, but I’m sure they can be obtained. 

The third area of focus could be on homes and buildings. Our new codes are improving issues of runoff for new construction, but we have a lot of existing structures that send thousands of gallons of water into our arroyos. By redoubling city efforts to subsidize and encourage the use of water catchment systems (rain barrels, cisterns, etc.), we could reduce runoff during rainstorms and reduce the dependence on treated water for outdoor landscaping. 

Going back to my original point, I believe that the general public deserves a chance to give their input into this important decision in a fair and open process. Given that there is no demonstrated emergency and that these efforts are based on projected water shortages in 2050, there is time for input and reflection. A Citizens Advisory Commission should be established to review all of the possible alternatives, hear from experts in a transparent process and draft a report to be presented to City Council. Meanwhile, efforts to race into building the pipeline should be halted until all options can be fairly and transparently evaluated. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Closing thoughts from Retake

At the end of the day, we feel that the New Mexican has it right. The plan is a good idea, the pipeline, despite years of debate and discussion, has failed to convince environmentalists or communities living downstream from the pipeline. Many of the studies that have been conducted, were completed before climate change and the likelihood of severe drought were as clearly evident as they are today. More work needs to be done here and those discussions can’t possibly be managed tonight. Encourage the Mayor and the City Council to pass the original resolution to conduct an 80 year water plan but remove the amendment calling for a pipeline until further debate among environmentalists and other impacted communities can occur.

Contact Information:

Mayor Alan Webber:  (505) 955-6590, mayor@santafenm.gov

Kelley Brennan, City Attorney: (505) 955-6511 kabrennan@santafenm.gov

District 1

District 2

  • Carol Romero-Wirth, (505) 955-6815, cromero-wirth@ci.santa-fe.nm.us
  • Peter Ives, (505) 955-6816, pnives@santafenm.gov

District 3

District 4

In solidarity,
Paul and Roxanne

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10 replies

  1. Thank you for this information and immediate access to phone numbers! Very helpful, as always.

  2. An 80 year plan

    Paul, as an property owner and in holder in the Santa Fe National Forest along the Wild River section of the Rio Chama, I see some of the realities upstream of the San Juan Chama Diversion users and stakeholders. I have tried for several years to convey to the ABCWUA these realities. You may want to try to incorporate some real upstream foresight into any Santa Fe long term water plans. Some of these include the possibility of any oil and gas development east of the continental divide. You may not be aware that the BLM lease/sales out of the San Juan office absolutely can impact the quality of surface water being used downstream in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If a pollution event occurred, for example in the Rio Gallina drainage, contaminants would then flow into the Chama and on to the Rio Grande. There are already leases held in this area and more on the market all the time.
    The watershed in the area of the Wild River section of the Chama is in poor condition. Even though it is miles above the site line of Santa Fe residents a fire could have a devastating effect on the water for years to come. Water sheds well beyond a 15 mile limit must be part of any serious water plan. The ABCWUA Water 2120 https://www.abcwua.org/uploads/files/Water_2120_Volume_I.pdf also includes the topic of produced water as a source. This is a perfect time to draw further attention to this insanity in Santa Fe.
    Mike Neas

  3. Thank you for your good work! Here is updated contact info for the SF City Attorney:
    Kelly Brennan retired as the City Attorney some time ago. The City Attorney is Erin McSherry. Her email is ekmcsherry@santafenm.gov

  4. Because of my interest in Aamodt, I have been looking at water issues for some years. Admittedly, I am not a scientist and have no training in this area. Some points.

    1. I’d endorse the position of “slow it, spread it, sink it” advanced by Esha Chiocchio, Climate Solutions Coordinator, Santa Fe Watershed Association. When I moved into my home almost 20 years — water flowed across our property in sheets and rushed through arroyos. Now I would estimate approximately 7 acre feet per year soak into the ground. There are tremendous gains to be made by this approach.

    2. A certain healthy skepticism is justified with regard to treated waste water. A document worth looking is the 2018 EPA IG’s report on the subject. Based largely on this document is a paper by a national Sierra Club specialist that is also worth reading. I am surprised our local group does not mention it. When I find the citation, I’ll email it to you.

    3. Rio Rancho spent $25 million to be able to turn out “highly purified” waste water which it injects at their aquifer. I have developed some data that suggests this “highly purified” brew may be actually pretty awful. Again, I have no background in this area. If you put together a group to look at this issue, I would be interested in cooperating with them in order to get their input.

    4. ASR wells were originally in the planning for Aamodt. However, they did not make it through environmental review by a not particularly environmentally concerned Bureau of Reclamation. We are all in the same basin. IMO, this suggests caution with respect to ASR wells.

  5. It is no surprise they did not survey the downstream water users, or survey the riparian areas that were dependent on the Santa Fe river water.

    20 million is a small price to pay for the impression of unlimited water for high end development. Most of the current crop of high end home buyers do not remember when there were ancient cottonwoods shading Santa Fe, or when the Santa Fe River, had a Cienega. The Santa Fe River is still downscouring, as the water table drops, and there are more extreme weather events that cause massive amounts of water to flow in short amounts of time. Nothing was done on the existing run off, and it’s impact on some local residents.

    The county has allowed unlimited development, with wells effecting the groundwater, leading to more down scouring of the Galisteo River. No one remembers the moratorium on building in Eldorado, and water trucks delivering water, in Eldorado, Madrid and Cerrillos. In some of these areas water was effected by the gold mining activities, meaning the ground water is contaminated.

    Mr Bent is correct, the EPA does not check for may pollutants, another deception foisted on the pubic. The “produced water” oil and gas lobbyists depend on this fact, when promoting fracking and produced water. This is just one more example of how they are gaslighting and lying to the public.

  6. https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/legislature/egolf-challenger-fires-up-supporters-with-anti-corporate-speech/article_94553b74-1d2b-11ea-b58a-c71f4c065382.html

    The New Mexican removed some of the more noxious comments. If only they had done that in 2016, but they were more concerned about Fakebooks advertising metrics, than the future of democracy.

  7. Regarding stream and arroyo flows and the “slow it, spread it, sink it” approach, I think Bill Zeedyk’s ideas (“Let The Water Do the Work”) are invaluable.
    Regarding future water use, I hope people will come to agree that economic and population growth are not good ideas; we need to learn about and create steady-state communities.

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