Question 6: How do you view the future of reclaimed wastewater in supplementing either directly or indirectly Santa Fe’s water supply? If the amount of treated wastewater discharged into the Santa Fe river is reduced, what impact to you anticipate on communities downstream of the City, and how can this impact be mitigated?
This is an extremely complicated question, as it involves the history of water development in our region, the understanding and working of hydrogeology in our region and multifaceted legal issues under State water laws. I believe that the City has a responsibility to ensure that its water resources are protected in service to the citizens of Santa Fe. The laws allows this and my responsibilities to the citizens of Santa Fe requires this, in my estimation. We do need to understand reclaimed wastewater as water owned by the City of Santa Fe under the law and protect it use for the citizens of Santa Fe. As to the second question, what effect would reducing the discharge of wastewater into the Santa Fe River below the wastewater treatment plant have on downstream users, the answer is that it would similarly reduced the amount of water available to those downstream users. This is where some of the complexities come into focus. There has been in my estimation poor management of water resources outside of the City of Santa Fe limits. When I say poor, I mean functionally unregulated. The proliferation of wells to the south and west of the City boundary is nothing short of remarkable over the past 50 years. Each well draws down the aquifer, but there has been no real attempt to understand this use or to ensure that it is properly overseen. Additionally, for some areas downstream, there appears to be some consensus that those downstream users are not necessarily so much impacted by what the City of Santa Fe does, but by what other neighboring communities do. These hydrologic connections need to be re-evaluated and properly regulated as part of future water plans. In terms of mitigation, Santa Fe County has begun to more actively promote water conservation, which is recognizes as the cheapest and first path to mitigating water supply shortage. This is something the City has been actively pursing for many, many years.
Reclaimed wastewater could provide a significant contribution to the water needs of the City going forward. Like many water management measures, there are a number of potential stakeholders that might be impacted by any changes. To ensure that all of these stakeholders are taken into account, we need to give everyone impacted a seat at the table to discuss and evaluate outcomes of any proposed measures on all stakeholders and find compromise solutions that fairly balance these outcomes in a positive manner for all the communities involved.
The use of using reclaimed wastewater to supplement Santa Fe’s water supply is the next frontier in Santa Fe’s water management strategy. As a City of Santa Fe City Councilor and member of both the Public Utilities and Public Works Committees, I have been fully briefed on the water reuse study and the recommended, viable alternatives. I support the preferred alternative of building a gravity-fed, effluent pipeline from the Paseo Real Wastewater Treatment Plant to the mainstem of the Rio Grande. My reasons are that the other alternatives have much greater cost and environmental and legal risks. Also, the joint city/county Santa Fe Basin Study has concluded that climate change will reduce our surface water supplies, both native and imported (San Juan Chama), by up to 9300 ac-ft. The impact is greater on our native surface water (up to a 1/3 reduction) in comparison to San Juan Chama water (up to a ¼ reduction). That is why we must leverage, for the first time in the city’s history, a substantial amount of return flow credits and divert as much imported surface water to compensate for the impacts of climate change. The impacts of reduced wastewater effluent flows into the Santa Fe River will be evaluated will be assessed with viable alternatives established to mitigate those impacts. Since the city is pursuing Federal funding (Title XVI), the National Environmental Policy Act will apply that will likely require, at a minimum, an environmental assessment which will thoroughly assess the impacts of the pipeline project.
Wastewater is one part of water supply. There are several possible uses of treated wastewater all of which have tradeoffs (return flow credits, groundwater recharge, irrigation, or some manufacturing or industrial uses) all of which need to be analyzed for their hydrologic, financial, and community impacts as well as mitigation strategies to offset negative impacts. None are likely to be implemented if there were to be impairment of water rights to downstream users. I don’t think we should move forward on any of them without the proper analysis, evaluation of the impacts and tradeoffs and public input.
Many parts of the country already rely on treated wastewater. As populations in the arid West, including Santa Fe, continue to grow, we may have to turn to treated wastewater to meet demand. The science and technology are there— but we must insist on the absolutely highest standards. Reducing flows to communities like Cienega, La Bajada and Cochiti Pueblo downstream is a very thorny issue, and has been for a long time. How to “mitigate” impacts other than with water? Probably nothing will satisfy the downstream communities except a dedicated, guaranteed supply of water. We need to recognize that need and provide for those communities in our long term overall water budget. Support from the members of the communities themselves is critical to any solution. They must be at the table.
*Note: These questions were submitted for distribution by the individual members of the Board of Directors of the Santa Fe Watershed Association. The questions and the resulting answers are posted as they were submitted and were not edited prior to this posting. The order of the responses in the survey, were in the order that they were received by us. The Santa Fe Watershed Association does not endorse any one candidate for any of the offices being contested. The information is deemed reliable but cannot be guaranteed.