City strives to help conserve Colorado River resources

The marina at Heron Lake is dry, a sign of how the state’s ongoing drought is affecting water resources. Courtesy photo

The Colorado River is oversubscribed and expected to dwindle in the years ahead, hit hard by drought and the water needs of millions of people, including Santa Feans.

“Water demand exceeds the supply,” Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said Thursday as he announced the city’s intention to join with other municipalities in seeking specific actions to help the Colorado River.

The San Juan-Chama Project, which delivers water from a Colorado River tributary to the Rio Grande, provides almost half the drinking water for Santa Fe residents through the Buckman Direct Diversion project. As water flows in the San Juan and Rio Grande shrink, there’s the potential for Santa Fe to lose the river as a source of water. The city water system has municipal reservoirs and wells supplying water as well, but those resources also will be affected by an ongoing drought.

All told, an estimated 1 million New Mexicans and 100,000 acres of farmland depend on water from the Colorado River or one of its tributaries that flow through the state. Recreation on the river and its tributaries contributes an estimated $1.7 billion to the state’s economy.

The Colorado River is shared by 40 million people in seven Western states and is the primary water source for several of the largest cities. A joint report by the seven states and the U.S. Department of Interior last year found the Colorado River on average will fall 3.2 million acre-feet short of demand by 2060. That amounts to the water used by more than 3 million households in a year.

The same report estimates that 3 million acre-feet of water a year could be saved if municipalities and farms conserved more water.

Coss and other city officials think Santa Fe is well situated to be a model for other towns. Currently, Santa Fe residents and businesses use 105 gallons per capita a day, less than several years ago.

Harold Trujillo, a farmer in Mora and vice president of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said the group is trying to help agriculture producers and acequia members find new ways to conserve water. He said the state also needs to come up with a better funding mechanism for regular maintenance, repairs and upgrades of water infrastructure.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.