Water Industry News
Santa Fe may
buy billions of gallons of bad water
December 24, 2004
By John T. Huddy,
Journal Staff Writer
City officials announced Thursday a proposal to buy
several billion gallons of brackish water annually from the Estancia
Basin south of Moriarty.
The massive project with a price tag of $127
million— not including annual operating costs— would provide a huge
boost to Santa Fe's water supply.
City staffers insisted the brackish water can be
treated to city standards through reverse osmosis.
"We are sure the water is treatable and can be
pumped into our system," city water director Galen Buller said.
City officials said the project would produce about
5.6 million gallons of treated water a day— nearly enough to cover the
6 million gallons Santa Feans use on a typical winter day and about half
what's needed to supply Santa Fe on dry, hot, high-usage summer days.
The proposed system would also produce 800 gallons a
day of brine waste, according to Thursday's announcement by Mayor Larry
Delgado and top city staffers.
The proposal is expected to go to the City Council
"When each of us ran for council, we promised we
would work to get new water supplies," Delgado said. "... If
we don't get this water, I'm certain somebody else will."
Proposals to supply Santa Fe or Albuquerque with
water from the Estancia Valley— extending from near Stanley south into
Lincoln County— have been kicking around for years. Concerns have been
expressed about the impact such plans would have on area farmers who
fear depletion of the water table. The cost of treating saline water has
been an issue.
In 2002, former state engineer Tom Turney rejected a
businessman's application to pump water from the basin to Santa Fe,
saying more information was needed on the geology of the basin and the
effect of pumping large amounts of water from it. Another group
submitted a similar application in 2003.
City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer said the council has
been discussing the plan in closed sessions.
"I think what the council wants to do is throw
this possibility open to the public," she said. "... It's a
complicated deal and needs to be aired in the public and discussed.
"On the plus side, it's a potential source of a
lot of water. On the negative, it's very expensive and it's not clear
what the environmental impacts would be."
Delgado acknowledged the project would be expensive.
"There's no way I can tell the residents of
Santa Fe they won't be affected (financially) by this," he said,
"that we won't increase water rates."
Delgado supports the project. "How can we talk
about annexation and development when we don't have the water?" the
mayor asked, referring to the city's plan to annex more than 14,000
acres of county land.
Last year, Santa Fe used 11,500 acre-feet of water
from its wells and reservoirs. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons.
In the Estancia Valley project, sellers are offering access to 7,200
acre-feet of new water rights.
Letting wells rest
City officials emphasized Thursday that the new water
would allow the resting of Santa Fe's current wells, which have been
heavily pumped during the recent years of drought.
The city would make the deal with Sierra Waterworks
LLC of Moriarty, owners of an 8,702-acre farm near Estancia. Efforts to
reach representatives of the company weren't successful Thursday.
Sierra Waterworks "approached us about making a
deal. Why they want to sell, we don't know," Delgado said.
State Corporation Commission records show that a
Sierra Waterworks Co. of Moriarty was incorporated in June 2003 to
construct or maintain reservoirs, canals and pipelines, with John Cyle
Sharp as president.
Here are terms of the proposed deal as presented
Thursday by Delgado and city staffers:
The city would pay $27 million for 51 percent
ownership of the 8,702-acre farm now used for alfalfa and grain
cultivation. With the purchase, the city would also take ownership of 51
percent of the 7,200 acre-feet of water rights.
Sierra Waterworks would retain a 49 percent ownership
of the ranch and the remainder of the water. The company would annually
sell, based on a fair market price per acre-foot, the 49 percent of its
water rights to Santa Fe.
City water engineer Rick Carpenter said the city
"would have to figure out" what a fair market rate would be.
The city would pay $6 million, to be applied to the
total $27 million purchase price, to secure an option on the water and
land. The option would be paid out over a three-year period at $2
million a year. If after three years the city decided not to go forward
with the project, it could forfeit all or part of the option costs.
The city would shell out an estimated $100 million
for project infrastructure— a 65-mile pipeline stretching from the
ranch north along N.M. 41 into Santa Fe, a water treatment facility to
desalinate the brackish water pumped from the ranch's wells and required
rights of way. Infrastructure costs would most likely be paid out with a
bond over a 30- to 40-year schedule.
The city would have an "undivided" interest
in the water rights, meaning "the ranch owners with the other 49
percent couldn't just pick up that water and say, 'We're going somewhere
else with it,' '' said assistant city attorney Kyle Harwood.
Buller said that "there are risks" in
getting permits for the project from the State Engineer Office.
Officials there could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Another major obstacle is the cost. The city is
already working on a $120 million project to divert its share of San
Juan-Chama water— water piped from the Colorado River basin for
storage in Heron Lake— from the Rio Grande. The city plans to spend
about $60 million for that project, splitting the bill with Santa Fe
County and Las Campanas subdivision.
The diversion project is scheduled to be on-line the
first part of 2008. The Estancia Valley project would come on-line by
2010 or 2012. City officials said Thursday they will seek state and
federal money to help pay for the Estancia Valley project.
Heldmeyer said "the big issue" in the
proposal is whether there is a sustainable water supply at the Estancia
Valley farm. "That's what we need to talk about— how long it can
produce and at what levels," she said.
Other big questions, Heldmeyer said, are "what
do you do with the leftover"— the waste brine resulting from the
desalination process— and the issue of whether the state will allow
pumping water from one basin to the other.
Heldmeyer said the owners of the ranch have
apparently not submitted any formal applications to the state engineer
but have "run it (the project) by various people in the State
Heldmeyer said there could be options for Santa Fe to
sell water or buy water from other supplies along the route of the
pipeline between Estancia and Santa Fe. "There are a lot of
unknowns," she said.
Harwood said the Estancia water would increase Santa
Fe's ground-water right allocations— which now total about 13,500
acre-feet— "by at least 50 percent." Santa Fe has about
22,000 acre-feet of total water rights.
2004 Albuquerque Journal