The recent forum for Santa Fe County commissioner candidates touched a hypothetical subject that could become real. Actually, should become real — a joint city-county water authority.

Three candidates from District 1, covering the north side of the city up to Española, and three candidates from District 3, which covers the southwest part of the city and down to Edgewood, attended. Only one of the six, Rudy Garcia, is an incumbent.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County and co-sponsored by The New Mexican. Held in person at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and livestreamed, 90 minutes went quickly, with each candidate given two minutes to answer the handful of questions.

The water authority question, paraphrased from one I posted online in the query form, was: “Would you support the creation of a joint city-county water authority?”

Actually my question, succinctly edited by the league, was more detailed, in that I asked if candidates would take “leadership” in “facilitating” such an authority, one with oversight of both potable water and wastewater, and the ability to allocate water for growth both inside and outside the city limits.

Those limits matter. Currently, they are too confining. The county’s designated Sustainable Development Area 1, vast acreage south of Interstate 25 and east of N.M. 14 surrounding Santa Fe Community College, contemplates more homes than the city’s open acreage on the other side of the highway. Way more.

Each side will get water from either the county’s water system or the city’s water system — two separate entities sucking from the same straw stuck into the Rio Grande. Both enjoy their entitled San Juan-Chama water rights tunneled through the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin. Not too many “what ifs” to worry about there, right?

Half the group, Camila Bustamante, Chris Rivera and Justin Greene, seemed to embrace the question and expressed unequivocal support for the idea.

The Romeros, John Paul and Orlando, both from the Pojoaque area, were supportive but cautious. Which is understandable given the area’s trepidation over big, new water systems created to control allocation of historical water.

Garcia also was cautious and expressed the sensible idea of wanting to see what was proposed before he could offer full support.

Except that’s why my original question asked about “leadership” and “facilitating.” Somebody has to take leadership and make it happen. Or it never will. Because it never has.

But we’re getting closer. The times demand it.

Fortunately, there exists two separate citizen groups, one appointed by county commissioners, one appointed by city councilors. They’re tasked with giving recommendations to their governing bodies on water.

The city’s group, the Water Conservation Committee, is chaired by a city councilor, the very process- and detail-oriented Carol Romero-Wirth. The staff liaison is Christine Chavez, head of the city’s Water Conservation Division.

The county has no commissioner designated to chair its citizen group, the Water Policy Advisory Committee, but it should. Commissioner Hank Hughes, I’m looking at you, since virtually all of the thousands of homes to come in the Sustainable Development Area 1 are in your District 5.

Both of these groups are exactly the sort that, working with the experts employed by both county and city, can hammer out broad outlines of a regional water authority — one that would take into account all sources of potable water and all collection of wastewater.

If water is to be allocated for equitable and affordable growth, then wringing out every precious and usable drop is essential.

The city and county could start by combining the meetings of the two groups immediately and tasking them with a feasibility analysis. We can’t wait.

Kim Shanahan has been a Santa Fe

green builder since 1986 and a sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at

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