City water pipeline

Santa Fe City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth asks questions Wednesday about the city’s water system as City Councilor Peter Ives listens during a discussion on a plan to build a new $20 million pipeline from the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Despite concerns from environmentalists and downstream irrigators, the city of Santa Fe will begin the design and construction of a roughly 17-mile pipeline that would funnel treated wastewater back into the Rio Grande under a resolution approved by Mayor Alan Webber and city councilors Wednesday.

The governing body approved the proposed project, which will cost an estimated $20 million — or more, depending on infrastructure needs — on a 6-2 vote. The pipeline is part of a resolution calling for 40-year and 80-year water plans.

Councilors JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Renee Villarreal, who raised concerns about the process and what Vigil Coppler called a “rush” to make a decision, cast the dissenting votes.

Vigil Coppler said Wednesday’s council meeting was “really the first big discussion” she had been part of concerning the proposed pipeline.

“I’m not saying it is, but it feels like an end run,” Vigil Coppler said. “The reason it feels that way is because I was excited about a 40-year plan, but what we end up discussing is the pipeline. I think it’s a very important discussion, and I wish that it had been its own agenda item.”

Though the idea is decades-old, it was only recently that City Councilor Peter Ives included the proposed pipeline in the resolution calling for the water utility to develop long-range water plans.

“I feel like there’s still work to be done and that there’s still stakeholders that we need to meet with instead of moving forward with implementation and design of the construction of the pipeline,” said Villarreal, adding that the proposed project was of such high importance that it needed to be dealt with in a standalone resolution.

The mayor and others emphasized that the proposed project was in the early stages and that the city would need to obtain some 28 permits before the first “teaspoon” of dirt could be moved.

“Even if the council were to act on this now, nothing would happen right away except a lot more discussions,” Assistant City Attorney Marcos Martinez said. “The permitting would involve the state and the federal government. … Some kind of environmental assessment would have to be done.”

The pipeline project is intended to maximize Santa Fe’s 5,230-acre-feet-a-year share of San Juan-Chama Project water.

“What we’re trying to do with this project is, instead of sending [the treated wastewater the city doesn’t use] downstream, we are trying to capture it and keep it in our water supply system,” City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who co-sponsored the resolution, said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s what this infrastructure that we’re talking about would do, is it would divert the water back to the Rio Grande so we could pull more of that imported water.”

Jesse Roach, the city’s Water Division director, said 60 percent of all the water the city produces to potable standards ends up in the sewer at the Paseo Real Water Reclamation Facility near the Santa Fe Regional Airport.

“That’s the water we want to take advantage of to reuse,” he said.

The wastewater, which is treated to meet federal standards for discharge, is released into the Santa Fe River.

The proposed pipeline, which would flow from the south-side wastewater treatment plant to the Buckman Direct Diversion plant on the Rio Grande, would instead allow the city to release the treated effluent into the Rio Grande — and pull more water out of the river.

“We do that with return flow river credits,” Romero-Wirth said.

Roach told the governing body a 2015 Santa Fe Basin study that identified climate change as a major threat to the city’s water supply prompted the water utility to look for long-term solutions.

“The shortages were on the order of 9,000 acre-feet per year for the city and county combined by the 2050s,” he said. “That’s a significant number to us. Currently, our potable demand is about 10,000 acre-feet per year, so we are looking at shortages down the line.”

Potential population growth and wildfires in the watershed were other factors the utility considered.

“Essentially, what we’re trying to plan for as a utility is the what-if scenarios,” he said. “We’re trying to be prepared for, ‘What if we lose the watershed [to wildfire]? What if climate change impacts our water sources? And what if population growth increases our demands? How do we respond to those challenges?’ So, those are the challenges that led us to focus in on this.”

City Councilor Signe Lindell said the city needed to act quickly.

“We have an obligation to the future,” she said. “Time is not on our side right now, and climate change is undeniable to, I think, everyone on this governing body. … The clock is going tick, tick, tick, and the environment to do this is getting worse.”

In an interview earlier this week, Webber said the city hired a firm to conduct an analysis of alternatives for the city’s effluent. Among the options the firm studied were recharging the aquifer and direct potable reuse in which wastewater is recycled.

“The pipeline came out as the most cost-effective way to get us more water in the future,” the mayor said. “If we don’t do anything, we will face a water shortage no later than 2055, and it’s not very far out. If you think about the decision that our predecessors made to jack up the price of water so that we have one of the most water-conserving cities in America, this is our turn to step up and say, ‘We’re going to take the next step.’ ”

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(9) comments

William Mee

Mayor Alan Webber

Councilor Renee Villarreal, Councilor Signe Lindell, Councilor Peter Ives, Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, Councilor Chris Rivera, Councilor Roman Abeyta, Councilor Michael Harris, Councilor Joanne Vigil-Coppler

City Clerk Yolanda Y. Vigil, CMC

Dear Honorable Mayor and City Councilors:

Acequia Agua Fria (AAF), an acequia association with quasi-state powers as established by 73-2-1 through 64 NMSA 1978, opposes the City of Santa Fe's plans to pipe recycled water from the Paseo Real Wastewater Treatment Plant; until several conditions are met as outlined below, but first some legal technicalities:

1. The Adjudication, Henry Anaya, et. al. Versus the City of Santa Fe (1971 D-101-CV7143347), is still an open case, and we think that the Pipeline proposal violates the rights of the downstream users. AAF would be willing to resume the negotiations begun in 2009-10, and offered to be resumed in the House Memorial 103 and Senate Memorial 70 (2017 N.M. Legislative Session) to resolve the litigation.

2. Under New Mexico State Law an acequia association rights to water are superior to those of a municipality.

Back to the AAF opposition to the Pipeline Proposal:

1. We think that public dialogue on the issue has been cut short - especially with regard to how this proposal affects the water supplies of the downstream users. This makes it impossible to support the City Proposal without more scientific information on the probable contaimination by pharmaceuticals that are NOT removed by the Paseo Real plant. Our partner organization, the Agua Fria Village Association (AFVA), a Community Organization as designated by Santa Fe County, wrote to the City of Santa Fe during the last Pipeline proposal and supported piping the treated water up to the Santa Fe River at the Siler Road bridge using the Algodones to Baca Street High Powerline easement owned by the County of Santa Fe (and not Public Service Company of New Mexico-PNM). The idea was that it would recharge our wells. AFVA now is reconsidering that approach since we may actually be poisoning ourselves with pharmaceuticals.

2. City and State staff came to the AFVA's November 4, 2019 meeting and gave a presentation on the three plumes of pollution under the City of Santa Fe that are headed to Agua Fria Village and our private wells, as well as the Agua Fria Community Well Association (AFCWA)'s well. The pollution is gasoline and PCB's from the PNM Baca Street wells and dry cleaning fluid from under the College Plaza Shopping Center and White Swan Laundry locations (as well as other sites). Running the Pipeline to the City Reservoirs, Frenchy's Field or Siler Road might dilute the pollution or even make it run faster to the Agua Fria area; only science knows.

3. We have a question on how the Pipeline Proposal affects the Living River Ordinance.

4. AAF is a member of the Santa Fe River Traditional Communities Collaborative (SFRTCC), as is the City of Santa Fe, and we think it is an affront to the organization not to make a formal presentation to it before the Pipeline proposal moves forward.

5. Perhaps the City of Santa Fe should look at investing potential U.S. Bureau of Reclamation funds in treatment systems that remove pharmaceuticals. Then many of AAF's concerns are mute.

The Pipeline proposal could immensely benefit AAF if the City receives Return Flow Credits from the Office of State Engineer, and in turn releases more reservoir water to the acequia systems and Living River. We don't think that all the entities involved have full answers to all of these moving pieces at this point in time, or are being included in sharing in the benefits of the proposal when thinking of it as a whole watershed approach or in future regional water planning. Thank you for reading our concerns.


William H. Mee, Chairperson and President

Acequia Agua Fria

2073 Camino Samuel Montoya

Santa Fe, N.M. 87507

CC: Acequia Agua Fria, board members

Agua Fria Village Association, board members



New Mexico Acequia Association

Santa Fe Basin Water Association

Bob Lee

It bothers me to no end how little thought some of our councilors put into initiatives like this. It’s been going on for decades, e.g. Art Sanchez’s proposal to take the water company private and run by the city and county. What a boondoggle it has been, anyone who deals the Sangre de Cristo water knows this. This plan needs to be spelled out to the taxpayers with a very clear budget explaining what we’re getting for our tax dollars. I for one, don’t want to have another Failrunner or Spaceport eating away at my kids future possibilities because people like Mrs. Lindell tax it all away just for another feel-good project.

Mike Johnson

Agreed, at least there were 2 rational adults in the room. Maybe Santa Fe can elect more next time.

Nicoletta Munroe

It is my understanding that the state of New Mexico is obligated to recognize the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the case of water rights of the Rio Grande. The federal litigation in question concerns interstate water rights. A federally appointed special mediator is in charge of water policy in the region. The matter before City Council concerning a water plan may be requited to be reviewed at the federal level.

Chris Mechels

Like so many Webber ideas, this is NOT an answer, its PR. By pretending an answer it avoids the very real problem, which is population growth in an arid landscape. Thanks Alan for "leading" us to "duck out" on yet another problem.

William Mee

I was unable to post my comment that I had posted in response to the Editorial, so you will have to review it there:

Mike Johnson

You would think the Cochiti pueblo would be very concerned, they will be using sewage to irrigate their crops and drink. The city os opening itself to massive lawsuits from this egregious, dangerous, and selfish act.

Barry Rabkin

28 permits? Shouldn't it be 228 permits that need each to discussed by each and every one of the stakeholders? 28 permits? We have got to find more ways to slow down our City's initiatives to a snail's crawl. We just have to slow down.

katrin smithback

We've never had a public hearing on the proposal, although the water division has presented its proposal multiple times. There are many red flags about the City's pipeline and other alternatives that might provide true sustainability of a water supply, as well as protecting the Santa Fe river. One week between the hastily drafted resolution and its passage; not a word was allowed to be said by the many in the audience who were required to sit silently. Yes, the water division has been pushing this for decades, but decision makers should have undertaken water planning BEFORE, not after, making this commitment of tens of millions of dollars.

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