Santa Fe Water Set to Divert Downstream Farm Water for Development Use

Today we offer a very short, but urgent call to action for all of you living in and around Santa Fe. It is water theft of the kind that has finally died a long overdue death in relation to the Gila River diversion. This needs to be stopped.

Today we offer another guest blog, this one developed by a handful of local and state water advocates who sound the alarm about the cost, purpose and process that has led us to being on the verge of implementing a plan for diverting thousands of acre feet of water from the Rio Grande and “swapping” it for water from the county treatment facility that is only partially treated. In essence, Santa Fe wants to divert water intended for agriculture to be used to support continued Santa Fe growth. Below you will find a petition to the Mayor and City Council asking them to reconsider this action.

But before we get to this, I want to briefly offer some very good news and boy do we need it. New York has once again sent a message to DINOs everywhere: voters want change, so give it to us or get out of the way.

NY Voters Did It Again: Possibly a Clean Sweep for Progressive Congressional Challengers, All of Whom Are Younger, People of Color Replacing Older, Long Entrenched Representatives

  • Despite a vigorous and well-funded campaign challenge from moderates, AOC kept her seat garnering just over 72% of the vote. And that was the tip of a most momentous iceberg.
  • Jamaal Bowman, an African American middle school teacher, with absentee ballots to be counted, it still looks to be on his way to Congress as by almost a 2-1 margin (61% to 36%) he is leading his race against Rep. Eliot Engel, the House Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a House Rep for over 30 years.
  • Denaire Jones, who would be the first gay African American member of Congress, is leading by over a 2-1 margin over multiple other challengers seeking to take the seat of retiring longtime Rep. Nita Lowey who has held the seat since 1989.
  • Ritchie Torres, a gay 32-year old African-Latino American City Councilor and fierce advocate for affordable housing and medicare for all, is also leading by a 30%-19% over a handful of other candidates with all precincts reported but more absentee ballots to count, and lastly
  • Suraj Patel is trailing by only 700 votes (41.5%-40%) in a very narrow race against incumbent Democrat Carolyn Maloney who was first elected to Congress in 1992. With many absentee ballots yet to be counted, Patel could surge and take even this race.

Thank you to the Working Families Party, New York, for another stellar job of garnering support for these remarkable candidates. Meanwhile, in Kentucky.

Kentucky Update. The news is not as good in Kentucky. We reported yesterday how the state had reduced the number of polling stations open by 95%, leaving half of the state’s African American voters with but one polling station (not a typo). No doubt this hurt the surging campaign of African American Democrat Charles Booker, the youngest state legislator in Kentucky, as he battles Amy McGrath for the opportunity to oust Sen. Mitch McConnell. With only ten percent of the vote counted, McGrath leads Booker by 2000 votes (44%-40%). Not impossible by any means. It is projected that the final vote may take days to complete. Meanwhile, in NM.

Water for Food or Development? Why Our City Is On the Wrong Side on This Issue & What You Can Do About It

When Mayor Webber was elected, I expected a much more open and democratic government. But we’ve witnessed two years of closed door negotiations as to how the Mid-Town project would unfold–still waiting on these details–and now a unneeded, costly water diversion project has been passed without public comment, squandering millions of dollars to allow Santa Fe to dump partially treated effluent into the Rio Grande in exchange for fresh Rio Grande water that would be pumped miles to satisfy Santa Fe’s thirst for growth. This is a tremendous deal, only if you care more about building ever more homes and hotels in Santa Fe than you do about growing food in downstream farming communities from Cienegilla to Cochiti Pueblo.

The op-ed below was published on Sunday in the New Mexican. It deserves wider readership. So, today, Retake hands the baton to the water experts and advocates who wrote the op-ed. At the end of the post is contact information for all Santa Fe City Council members and for the Mayor and a petition we will deliver in a week.

Please contact the Mayor and your city councilors today & PLEASE SHARE THIS POST.

Dear Friends, neighbors, community,

The following is an op-ed that was published today in the New Mexican. As you know the climate crisis is and will continue to impact our water through drought, increased temperatures etc. Please do read the op-ed and if you will please call or email your city councilors and the mayor (contact information below the op-ed) before the city council meeting this Wednesday afternoon. And do pass this along.Thank you for all you do, Bobbe Besold.

Santa Fe has a major budget crisis.  But having surveyed public opinion, and learned that capital projects were the lowest priority for the City’s residents, the City administration is nonetheless moving forward on its infamous “pump to dump” project. 

The plan is to build a new 18-mile pipeline from the wastewater plant to deliver partially- treated effluent into the Rio Grande.  Discharge standards are lower for the Rio Grande than they are for the Santa Fe River, and the City’s consulting engineers have advised that big bucks could be saved by sending our poor-quality water to the Rio rather than investing in expensive upgrades to our wastewater plant. 

The problematic effluent will be swapped for Rio Grande River water, which will be pumped uphill and treated to serve putative future growth.  This will take thousands of acre feet of water per year out of the lower 18 miles of the Santa Fe River, impacting farming communities downstream from Cienegilla to Cochiti Pueblo.  Further, the engineers assume that there will be enough San Juan-Chama water in the Rio Grande to accomplish that trade of river water for effluent. 

On the contrary:  literally all the federal and state water agencies predict reductions and shortages in the San Juan and Rio Grande systems due to climate change.

The pump-to-dump project has been a dream of the Water Division for years, which has lobbied tirelessly for it, doing one-sided performances for elected officials and anyone else who would listen.  In these presentations, cost savings are always touted and technical and environmental concerns dismissed.  Citizens were not permitted to speak when the project was added as an amendment to a resolution before a committee of the Council, and rammed through without public notice.

An outpouring of letters resulted, but the City Council (with two lame ducks voting and one member absent) approved the pipeline in December.  Again, the concerned citizens in attendance were required to remain silent. 
Thus, in the course of a few days, with no public hearing, the Council gave the Water Division the go-ahead to build the pipeline.

Undisclosed sums are being spent on an engineering design for the project.  The Water Division is now seeking another $700,000 for further studies on the project, despite the fact that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has so far denied funding for the pipeline! Meanwhile, City employees are being furloughed and vital city services slashed  to meet the City’s projected operating deficit of $100 million this year.  And the discharge from our wastewater plant has violated disinfection standards twice in the past year, causing irrigation to be shut off to  parks. The City’s consulting engineers estimate that up to $86.7 million is needed to upgrade the plant to meet the more stringent and protective nitrogen and phosphorus limits that are coming down the pike. 

This is not the time to push forward on a new $20 million project that will not solve the wastewater plant’s pollution violations nor the Buckman drinking water plant’s technical problems.  Rather than exporting our effluent pollution to the Rio Grande and doubling down on our reliance on imported water, we should invest in the necessary upgrades to our water and wastewater systems, and retain the purified water here in the Santa Fe River system to recharge our local aquifer, irrigate our public green spaces and serve our last few farmers.

The next City Council meeting is today, June 24. Tell them: no more money for the Water Division’s pump-to-dump project — it’s time to fix what we have, and use the surplus Water Division funds to address genuine needs.  Maybe they’ll hear us this time.

  • Neil Williams, engineer, farmer
  • Paige Grant, writer, farmer
  • Bobbe Besold, Rivers Run Through Us
  • Denise Fort, Professor Emerita, UNM School of Law
  • John Horning, WIldEarth Guardians
  • William H. Mee, President Acequia Agua Fria and Agua Fria Wellowners’ Association 
  • Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited
  • Susan Martin, Northern New Mexico Group of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

Call To Action, First Sign Our Petition, but then please call the Mayor and your City Councilor members. We won’t be delivering the petition for at least a week and while the pipeline is not on the agenda, we want our representatives to hear from us before they meet tonight.

Click here to sign Retake Our Democracy’s petition asking the Mayor and City Council to Reverse this Decision.


  • The farmers south of us need this water for food. Santa Fe does not need this water for growth.
  • We are furloughing employees and experiencing a devastating deficit; we should not be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and a project for which their is no funding.
  • This is just wrong on so many fronts and the public has been shut out from this process.

Please call and email today.

Thank you!

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

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1 reply

  1. It’s long past time for steady-state economic models!

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