Santa Fe Proposes Water Theft to Quench Unrestrained Thirst for Growth

Today is the last day for public comment on an immoral Santa Fe water grab and The Paper published a timely piece on the topic. We provide excerpts and a link to the full piece to get you caught up, and then contact information so you can raise your voice.

After our action alert on this shameless water theft, we offer a guest post from Aarin Richard, a member of the Santa Fe Basin Water Association (SFBWA) board. We also want to alert you that a Retake Conversation with Aarin, Paul White, and William Henry Yee, fellow SFBWA board members, airs on KSFR 101.1 FM tomorrow, Saturday at 8:30 AM, or streaming live online at We also provide a link to a Reese Baker proposal published by the Green Fire Times. Baker proposes an alternative approach to urban design for water-challenged Santa Fe. Timely how all this came together and this is not just relevant to Santa Fe — consider Santolina in Albuquerque/Bernalillo, a massive development that ignores entirely how the proposed expansion would drain water and choke highways. Before we turn the post over to Aarin and Reese, let’s get to our Action Alert. The deadline to comment is 5pm TODAY!!!!!

Santa Fe Water Theft Proposed: Raise your Voice Today!

The Paper, based in Albuquerque, is an excellent source of local and state news coverage, and their reporting on this issue is excellent. We provide excerpts here, but you can read the full post on the water diversion by clicking here.

A proposed 17-mile pipeline by the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County could significantly change how and where water flows in the lower Santa Fe River. The water pipeline project proposes to transport 2,200 acre-feet of water from the San Juan-Chama Project that now flows down the lower Santa Fe River into the Rio Grande instead. This diversion is said to be needed to prevent Santa Fe from running out of water. Interesting how the solution for Santa Fe’s unquenchable thirst for development and hence, increased need of water, is proposed to be solved by stealing water from the Cochiti PUEBLO and the farming communities along the Rio Grande, south of Santa Fe. The City Different indeed! Maybe it should be The City privileged? From The Paper:

A proposed 17-mile pipeline that would re-route the lower Santa Fe River and move a whole lot of water (up to 50%), is getting a lot of attention. Opponents say the project is moving water away from the plants, wildlife and communities that rely on it, and they want the public to weigh in. It’s yet another case of how lawmakers are trying to parcel out the little bit of water our state has. If you’d like to submit a comment, the public comment period is open until 5pm Friday (today!).

The Paper, “Santa Fe Pipeline Predicted to Reduce Lower Santa Fe River Flows Up to 50 Percent,” by Gwynne Ann Unruh

Opponents to the project say the water flow the city and the county intend to reroute for use in Santa Fe is vital to the plant, wildlife and communities that rely on the lower Santa Fe River. No matter, Santa Fe has development plans that are upstream and thirsty.

“This project is expected to reduce flows in the lower Santa Fe River by up to 50 percent,” said Tricia Snyder, Rio Grande campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “That could translate into really significant impacts for the plant, fish, wildlife and human communities that depend on this reach of the river. These potential impacts need to be taken seriously and be subject to a thorough evaluation….

It was a really tough water year all across the American West, and climate change projections tell us it’s only going to get tougher,” added Snyder. “But we can’t let desperation for an engineered solution make us forget our responsibilities to the environment, people and cultures downstream.”

The Paper: Santa Fe Pipeline Projected to Reduce Lower Santa Fe River Flows Up to 50 Percent” by Gwynne Ann Unruh

Please act now! Comments must be submitted by
5pm TODAY, November 19, by email to

If you want to read more on the water diversion issue, Retake wrote a post and action alert on this issue two years ago. We included reporting on the duplicitous, non-transparent public input process deployed to launch this project. Click here to read that post.

Now, we turn the post over to Aarin Richards.

Santa Fe’s Unquenchable Thirst for Growth Threatens to Ruin All We Love About the City

The Friends of Architecture’s recently published article (“Architects issue a housing call for action,” My View, Oct. 10), while not without good intentions, is a completely one-sided sales pitch for more development. It is devoid of consideration for the real and overall impact on sustainability and livability in Santa Fe. Suggesting that if we could just tamp down those pesky zoning ordinances, codes, permits and fees, we could build and build our way to a better future. Adopted from the policy platform of the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition, it fails to account for our overarching reality and the elephant in the room — water.

We agree with its call for long-range planning. But the group fails to acknowledge the pressing issues of climate change affecting the water resources that their building proposals will suck dry, only saying that somehow, their proposals should be sustainable. What facts do they point to showing sufficient water resources? Independent water experts have given stark projections of future water resources.

The city and county water administrators, despite past assurances of sufficient supplies, have recently issued statements of equivocation. In theory and on paper, the supply looks ample, with 22,200 acre-feet annually. However, in “wet” or “actual” water, the city struggles to produce more than 10,000 acre-feet annually. These disparities need to be reconciled before any more development can be promoted.

The Friends of Architecture’s proposals would dramatically increase density — not in the good way it envisions — but quite the opposite. Traffic, smog, congestion, loss of critical open space, further loss of night skies — to name a few — will put us onto the on-ramp of becoming the next big city in the Southwest. Already, the current mode of expansion of mostly market-rate units has seen the jettisoning of long-standing zoning requirements, contributing little to affordable housing. This is not hyperbole. Just look at the Zia Station project, which is tossing out height restrictions — with the City Council’s blessing — and offering only a small amount of affordable units, and those for only 10 years.

The Friends of Architecture would like to make what it calls “relatively simple changes to the code.” It proposes eliminating parts of the approval process, allowing more density, changing height, setbacks and lot-coverage requirements. All of this would be in return for merely exceeding the minimum standards of affordability and sustainability. Like its idea of maximizing the amount of casitas and accessory dwelling units by streamlining the permitting process, it’s all simply a mindset that building more and more of everything will remedy the affordable-housing crisis. In fact, a 2010-17 study from Freddie Mac supports just the opposite — fast-growing cities have seen their affordable housing decline substantially.

We need more affordable housing, so let’s figure out a way to do that — without this scatter-shot approach of massively building anything, everywhere, with no regard for resources. Zoning, ordinances and permits were originally established for good reason. And historical districts need to be preserved. Most importantly, we can’t expect our natural resources to be ever-plentiful and nonexhaustive in this era of a drier climate.

We, the Santa Fe Basin Water Association, established in 1974, and United Communities of Santa Fe County are advocating for true sustainability and livability in all of Santa Fe County. This requires living within our means without depleting our natural resources.about

Aarin Richard is on the board of directors of the Santa Fe Basin. He has submitted this on its behalf, in conjunction with the association’s affiliate, United Communities of Santa Fe, which advocates for sustainable water resources and community voices. Learn more at

In the first piece above, about the proposed water diversion, we see the kinds of unethical schemes Santa Fe needs to deploy to sustain its unchecked growth. If we want to sustain the city we so love, we must learn to live within our means. And this water pipeline scheme needs to be halted in its tracks.

For another view on urban planning in a water challenged community, the Green Fire Times offers an excellent piece from Reese Baker: click here. The piece begins on on page 24. I would have summarized it and provided excerpts, but it was more important to get this alert out quickly.

That’s it for today.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne.

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7 replies

  1. I wonder what connection this might have with DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration’s ongoing push to build a plutonium pit factory in Los Alamos? I understand that they are desperate for more housing and other infrastructure to support the needed thousands of workers they will bring in for this death plant. This project calls for lots of water, ¿no?

  2. I wrote about this exact issue a year ago as an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican ( ) and only received one comment. Then I wrote about the environmental solution for all New Mexican water shortages in the March/April issue of Green Fire Times, but the Nazi editor smothered it onto the last pages and never hyperlinked it, so it couldn’t be shared without having to scroll through the entire PDF of the issue.

    I’ve come to conclude the state doesn’t want to hear from educated experts on environment issues. The most prominent environmental writer in the state (published books by UNM Press!) doesn’t even have an environmental background, or understand basic science. It’s all jealousy, whose-who, and playing power games while the environment suffers. City and state officials don’t care to learn or listen to advice from environmental scientists. So sad.

  3. Paul. I am very grateful for your recovery and reengagement.

    But Water Theft, Paul? It’s Santa Fe’s imported water that when they conceived the Buckman Diversion they chose not to consume. Of course if Santa Fe discharges the not-consumptively-used portion of its San Juan-Chama diversion as treated wastewater effluent to the Santa Fe River, they lose control and ownership.

    Santa Fe needs to consume all of its imported San Juan-Chama surface water, particularly when it’s Santa River water supply can’t be used–i.e., when storage of water for uses below Elephant Butte Dam is less than 400,000 acre-feet (due to Rio Grande Compact Article VII restrictions). With climate change warming and drying, we are likely to be stuck going in and out of Article VII, which prevents increasing water storage in reservoirs constructed after 1929. There is no end in sight for Article VIII, which requires that water held in those reservoirs be retained subject to call for downstream delivery to Elephant Butte when the Middle Rio Grande has a cumulative debit in its deliveries to Elephant Butte Reservoir.

    Our debt when this year’s accounting is completed will exceed 100,000 acre-feet. The explicit limit of our debt is 200,000 acre-feet, which could be exceeded in 2022 under the status quo. This situation should be treated as an emergency. Only a few years ago we had a very substantial credit. Now, we are asleep at the wheel and in chaos simultaneously.

    We badly need to prepare rigorous regional and community water plans so we can face our existential water problems collaboratively. That is a difficult proposition that should already have been in place. It would be helpful if Retake were to 1. support funding for our water agencies for FY23 to administer water and to facilitate and fund water planning, 2. demand reform of New Mexico’s water governance systems, 3. demand the Legislature and Governor ensure New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande’s compliance with the Rio Grande Compact deliveries, and 4.demand that New Mexico address the severe inequities in the status quo anarchic shortage sharing.

    It’s through the neglected planning that we can holistically tackle the problems of the less than zero sum water availability with climate change and put increased water use for development into perspective.

    It’s crucial that we get serious water planning underway.

    • Norm, you are correct in your figures but they are for the entire state. The City of Santa Fe, County and Las Companas have 5634, 1700, and 1800 acre feet annually from the compact The return flow credit proposal could be done in other ways, like keeping it in the Santa Fe River for agricultural users. The biggest problem in the proposal is that the City’s wastewater plant consistently violates EPA standards in sanitary sewer overflows and in the purification of the water itself. They never meet the 100% standard. So why should consistently very deficient effluent water be returned to the Rio Grande? In June of this year the regional office of the EPA from Dallas came and and wrote citations to the City on three separate occasions. To the best of my knowledge none of these citations has been resolved. None of this was made public because it would make bad press for the mayor’s reelection. Dumping effluent directly into the Rio Grande will be the easiest solution for the City but the worst possible outcome for downstream communities.

  4. I tried to send an Email protesting the water proposal and got this reply: “” does not appear to be a valid email address. Verify the address and try again. Any ideas?

    • Hi Marge. Do not use the period at the end. It’s only there because the email address was at the end of a sentence. It’s not part of the email address. I’ll remove it so no one else makes that mistake. Thanks for writing, Roxanne

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