The Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday voted in favor of an agreement with the city to construct and operate a 17-mile pipeline to pump treated wastewater into the Rio Grande.

The project, part of a long-range plan to stabilize the local water supply, is intended to give the city and county access to more water in the future from the San Juan-Chama Project, which is pulled from the Rio Grande through the Buckman Direct Diversion.

But the pipeline project also has raised concerns by farmers, ranchers and environmentalists that it will dry up the southern stretch of the Santa Fe River, which now receives effluent from the city’s water treatment plant.

The project is the result of the 2015 Santa Fe Basin Study, which identified effluent as a source to help address future water supply issues.

The commission passed the agreement 3-1, with Commissioner Rudy Garcia absent.

The terms of the agreement call for the city to cover 93 percent of the costs — estimated at around $20 million total — and the county to chip in the remaining 7 percent. In exchange, the county is entitled to 7 percent of the project’s water supply.

The county’s share of the capital costs is capped at $2 million.

The county is required to make a $140,000 nonrefundable payment.

County Attorney Gregory Shaffer said the county has an option to participate in the pipeline project after a 2½-year study on how to maintain water flows in the lower Santa Fe River. If the county doesn’t agree with the study’s findings, it can opt to end its participation.

Commissioner Hank Hughes, the lone no vote, said he still has concerns about the project, namely that the county was voting to accept the agreement prior to seeing how the mitigation program would be developed.

If the county learns later that mitigation isn’t possible, Hughes said, “I think at that point we may be too far down the road with the pipeline to switch to anything else.”

Hughes also questioned whether enough public outreach was conducted and if the alternatives to the pipeline were vetted strongly enough, including a proposal to pump water upstream into the Santa Fe River and let it flow down through the city.

“I’m just not sure which they value more,” Hughes said. “More water for houses and business, or more water for the environment.”

Commissioner Anna Hansen said she was at a lot of public meetings on the project and felt there was enough community outreach. She said she felt strongly that both city and county staff took the commission’s concerns about the lower Santa Fe River to heart.

“We have constantly said this is an important issues,” Hansen said. “We have not let up on that.”

The Santa Fe City Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement May 12.

(12) comments

Paul White

Instead of dumping dirty waste water in the RG like everyone else how about cleaning it up at the Buckman treatment plant? If I were a downstream user I would consider hiring an attorney. And as someone who is very aware of water issues and public events I never heard from Anna Hanson regarding all of these meetings or from any other source. I supported her when she ran but if I had known better her positions on water and settlements I would not have. She really doesn’t seem to care about her constituents.

Khal Spencer

What level of cleanup is this water subject to, Paul? I was at a conference a few years back where the water engineers were saying the were putting back water clean enough to drink. Gasp.

Paul White

Yes, I remember ABQ touting that they were cleaning it up. There was an event where they handed out plastic bottles of "clean" wastewater but some sort of mysterious grey matter had accumulated in the bottles and they had to call off the event.

The EPA only regulates 90 contaminants:

There's a lot of contaminants that are omitted such as pharmaceuticals. There have been many articles about how these contaminants affect aquatic life forms. If the City were to reuse the water and REALLY clean it up it would be the best thing to do rather than literally kicking it down the road. Our officials obviously cannot think outside of the can they are kicking down the road.

Khal Spencer

Was this conference

Paul White

Cleaning up wastewater for reuse in Santa Fe would have at least a couple of benefits: 1. instead of dumping waste water that is 99% clean it would rid the waste water of dangerous chemicals that affect aquatic life forms. 2. It would solve the problem of Rio Grande water messing up the pumps and other filtration equipment.

Francisco Carbajal

After reviewing the article, I was not amused with Commissioner Anna Hansen statement: "She said she felt strongly that both city and county staff took the commission's concerns about the lower Santa Fe River to heart." Really? When is the last time the city and county governing body ever cared about the downstream neighbor's (the lower Santa Fe River) which has a higher Hispanic/Indian population south of the city wastewater facility relating to the treated effluent waters (human waste) that every body wants for their golf courses and polo-grounds? Frankly, the city and county governing bodies should be ashamed of themselves for failing to represent the downstream traditional and historical communities of La Cieneguilla, La Cienega, and La Bajada, period! Apparently, the "special interest groups" that fall into a wealthy scheme of things for these politicians continue to create more of an unequal environmental justice of protection for a high minority population (Hispanic/Indian farmer's, rancher's) in Santa Fe County and no one is representing the "lower Santa Fe River" to heart. Lastly, Commissioner Anna Hansen is definitely speaking out of her mouth relating to "public meetings and community outreach." Again, the adequate public involvement and input process that she claims has occurred for this specific topic is invisible at best. Shame on the city and county governing body for catering to the special interests groups that have no heart for the downstream communities south of the city limits. By the way, where is our County Commissioner Rudy Garcia that is supposed to represent District 3 for these traditional and historical communities that I speak of today? Missing in Action (MIA). I am not surprised.

Richard Reinders

"Commissioner Hank Hughes, the lone no vote, said he still has concerns about the project, namely that the county was voting to accept the agreement prior to seeing how the mitigation program would be developed". The county did the same with the Aamodt, they signed agreements before securing easement agreements with the Pueblos leaving the non Pueblo residence at the mercy of Pojoaque Pueblo in what and how they would be charged to ingress egress. The County got into these easement problems in the 80's by not doing their homework and understanding Indian Law, it looks like they are going to compromise again with out information. Santa Fe County has shown the ability to sacrifice the few for who knows what, water, or?

Francisco Carbajal

Senor Richard Reinders, good input and totally agree with you 100%. Santa Fe County has a bad voting record for anything that has do with NM Water-Rights Law and NM Indian Law altogether.

Stefanie Beninato

Was the issue of road ownership and nonpueblo access to property in the checkerboard region of the Pojoaque Valley a condition of approval for the Aamodt settlement? If so, it is the first I have heard. Please explain more. And yes the county knew at least by the 1990s that it did not have easements on pueblo roads despite decades of maintaining these roads and particularly at Pojoaque Pueblo things did get difficult for nonpueblo owners in terms of home insurance among other things because of the lack of clarity about access...

Richard Reinders

I was invited to be part of the meeting to resolve the easement issues by Commissioner Roybal before the County would totally commit funds to the Aamodt project. All the Pueblos gave easement requirements and formulas for their Pueblos prior to the signing with the exception of Pojoaque to my understanding, yet the County signed the agreements anyway leaving actually the majority of the non Pueblo property owners with out a solid and secured deal, I am not sure if Pojoaque and the non Pueblo residents have something solid now because I moved shortly afterword to Santa Fe. Yes all these easements were in the checkerboarded regions. The fact that the county in 1989 did not do their research to find out that the Pueblos themselves had no rights to incumber the land held in trust with out approval from DOI and other agencies show a lack of effort or concern for the constituency . It wasn't until San I threw everyone in to trespass regarding their roads that it showed up as a problem and this happened in the middle of the settlement agreement. I also found that many of the residence in the Nambe Pueblo boundaries had access through the Herrera Decree and also there was the Hordes Report file:///C:/Users/riche/Downloads/HordesReportSantaFeCountyFull%20(2).pdf that addresses access so it is very complicated . Devin Bent is still a resident of the area and has been very involved and may have more complete and correct information.

Devin Bent

What community outreach is Commissioner Hansen talking about? Did the county hold a single hearing?

Hansen appears to be an enthusiast for water pipelines despite their environmental impact. She was an enthusiastic participant in the celebration of the amended Aamodt agreement.

Again, no one mentions climate change, the mega-drought and the drying of the Rio Grande. How much wet water will actually be in the Rio Grande by the time we complete the pipelines? No one mentions that this pipeline will be built along El Camino Real, a Congressionally mandated National Historic Trail, in violation of a federal law.

Quote: Commissioner Anna Hansen said she was at a lot of public meetings on the project and felt there was enough community outreach.

zach miller

you can't take it with you, but your actions ruining ecosystems will remain even after you leave. So maybe focus less on self prosperity, and a little more on keeping the planet habitable.

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