The City Council has plenty of business to address at the last regular meeting for 2019. Two big initiatives are on the agenda. Both are complicated and far-reaching.

One initiative, affecting inclusionary-zoning laws, needs to pass at this meeting because the program it reforms will expire at the end of the year. The Office of Affordable Housing has put together a flexible package of reforms to better able Santa Fe to provide affordable housing that works for developers and helps increase the supply of dwellings. Santa Fe has an affordable housing crisis on its hands, with the occupancy rates for rentals around 98 percent and rents continuing to rise.

The current program had asked developers building multifamily rental units to either set aside 15 percent of the apartments for qualified low-income tenants and rent the rest at market rates or pay a fee in lieu of the set-aside to the city, 100 percent of which goes to build affordable housing elsewhere.

Amendments would keep the fee-in-lieu option but would increase the amount paid over the next several years. There also would be new options encouraging development of apartments aimed at middle-income renters with other incentives, so developers would build more affordable units for people who can’t afford market rent.

Alexandra Ladd, in charge of the Office of Affordable Housing, makes a persuasive case that these amendments provide flexibility for developers and continue emphasizing the need for more affordable housing. Eventually, increasing the supply of housing should allow the market to correct itself, bringing down rents at older units as newer buildings open. The City Council should approve these amendments, while at the same time tracking their impact on construction and the housing market. If they don’t work or have unintended consequences, change them.

The second big item on the agenda is even more important to the future of Santa Fe — and that’s because without ensuring an adequate water supply, there is no way forward.

Up for consideration is a relatively uncontroversial item from District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth calling for the city to begin work on its 40- to 80-year water plan. This is necessary and somewhat overdue, and deals not just with where Santa Fe will find water but how that precious resource will be used, reused and conserved.

That prudent effort, though, has become controversial because of an amendment to her resolution that also calls for the city to approve the “design and construction” of a $20 million, 17-mile pipeline connecting the south-side wastewater treatment plant to the Buckman Direct Diversion plant on the Rio Grande.

Approval would not mean the project is a done deal — such a project needs 28 permits, after all — but it would indicate City Council consensus on a proposal that has been talked about for decades. Despite the many studies of this proposal over the years, including numerous stakeholder meetings held in recent months to discuss Santa Fe’s water future, the addition of what is essentially an endorsement of the pipeline project to the water-planning process has raised the hackles of downstream farmers and environmentalists.

The pipeline would allow the city to maximize use of its 5,000-acre-feet-a-year share of San Juan-Chama Diversion project water that flows through the Buckman Direct Diversion plant, using return-flow credits as the city takes water from the Rio Grande and replaces it with treated effluent water.

District 2 Councilor Peter Ives, who is leaving the council, added the pipeline amendment to Romero-Wirth’s water-planning resolution. The council Public Utilities Committee voted 3-1 to move the combined resolution forward; this week, however, the Public Works/CIP and Land Use Committee stalled 2-2 on whether to move ahead. The resolution goes on to the council because of Public Utilities Committee approval.

On Wednesday, the City Council should endorse the creation of the long-term water plan but remove the word “construction” from the resolution. Not because it should not be built but because reasonable opponents still need to be persuaded.

Take up further discussion of the pipeline after the first of the year, but remember this: The concept of diverting water and using a return-flow pipeline is the option that study after study dating to the 1970s has endorsed as both cost-effective and practical. The city still needs to make its case to environmentalists and downstream farmers, showing ways they believe the project would benefit both the environment and downstream acequias.

First, though, comes a busy end-of-the-year meeting. It’s going to be a long night.

(5) 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 Camino 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 Camino 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

Paul White

I think the City should reuse the wastewater for domestic use. Rather than just dumping it in the Rio Grande the City should take responsibility and pay the extra expense of fully cleaning the water. There are numerous contaminants that the EPA allows, we need to start to take responsibility now, not kick the can down the river. As for the concerns of downstream farmers a better solution might be to pump excess "living river" water below the treatment plant along with agricultural zones along the river. Although some of the water from the living river gets back into the aquifer there is also significant loss and little if any make it to La Cienega. The agricultural rights of La Cienega and Agua Fria could be addressed through this scenario. And I'm curious, in the past at various forums when I asked the City about how much water rights they had for growth they said they had more than enough. If that is so why are they scrambling for initiatives such as this and why are they transmitting water from Aamodt illegally, violating the RG Compact?

Paul White

The City should reuse the water for domestic use, dumping water in the Rio Grande River that only meets EPA standards still has numerous pollutants in it. It is a moral obligation, which doesn't seem to carry any weight with our current reps.

Dan Frazier

A $20 million pipeline seems like a drastic measure, especially when so much more could be done in the way of conservation. Santa Fe is known for being in an arid climate, so I would have expected it to be a leader in water conservation, but that is certainly not the case. To my knowledge, there are no mandates, or even incentives to encourage water conservation -- things like low-flow toilets (or composting toilets), water-harvesting barrels at drainspouts, etc. A single big rain storm would probably provide a year's worth of water for Santa Fe, but nearly all of the water that falls in the City flows out of Santa Fe . There seems to be almost no effort to capture and use this water.

Philip Taccetta

Santa Fe did a low flow toilet program years ago. Rain barrels? Might make people feel good but it’s literally a drop in the bucket. 1” of rain will provide approximately 600 gallons of water. For every 1,000 sq.ft. of catchment. A 2,000 gal. cistern would be more appropriate.

All of my household water comes from my roof. I have 5,100 gallons of storage and I could use

another 1600 gal. cistern. Most people wouldn’t want a 2,000 gallon cistern sitting in their yard.

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