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.