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Santa Fe Council OKs water plans with $20M pipeline

SANTA FE – The City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution by a 6-2 vote directing city staff to develop and propose 40- and 80-year water plans in an effort to maximize the city’s water resources, including the design and construction of a $20 million pipeline.

The proposed pipeline, referred to as the Buckman Return, has been discussed for decades, but wasn’t added as an amendment to the water plan resolution until a week ago. That raised concerns from environmentalists and farmers worried that the plan would result in less water flowing down the Santa Fe River, potentially jeopardizing the amount of water that farmers living on county land could use to irrigate their crops.

The water plan proposal comes in the wake of a 2015 study that warned that the city’s water sources are susceptible to the effects of long-term drought, wildfire contamination and climate change.

The pipeline would run 11 miles between the Buckman Direct Division on the Rio Grande to a wastewater treatment plant. The idea behind it is to take more water from the river than is allocated to the city under the San Juan-Chama water agreement, but return the excess amount to the river in the form of reused effluent. City officials say that would reduce the need to pump groundwater from the city’s wells, allowing the aquifer to recharge.

City Councilors JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Renee Villarreal voted against the proposal because the amendment to include the pipeline was introduced so late.

“I’m not saying that it is, but it feels like an end run,” Vigil Coppler said.

Villarreal said she felt that the pipeline proposal should have been taken up separately.

“We should have had a separate resolution specific to the pipeline proposal,” she said, adding that attaching the design and construction of the pipeline was an overreach of the original proposal. “I don’t believe this is the right route.”

Mayor Alan Webber made the point that there have been many meetings involving stakeholders that addressed the concerns being raised and the questions people had about the water plan dating back to 1972. He ran down part of a list of approximately 40 meetings that have been held this year alone, though none of them had been advertised as public meetings.

The resolution was introduced by Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who led a nearly hour-long question and answer period with city staff as an introduction of the proposal. Many of the questions she asked were meant to address what she called misconceptions and misinformation about the plan.

“We’re not diverting native water from the Santa Fe River. In fact, there’s the potential for the Santa Fe River to be enhanced,” she said, addressing one of the concerns.

Assistant City Attorney Marcos Martinez confirmed that, saying that a pipeline would allow the city to explore other water-saving measures, like aquifer storage and recovery.

“Basically, it provides an avenue for the city to look into other ways for storage,” he said of the pipeline.

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