Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
WildEarth Guardians and City of Santa Fe reach deal to keep the Santa Fe River flowing
The San Juan-Chama Return Flow Project includes a proposed 17-mile pipeline that will return treated, unconsumed San Juan-Chama water from the Paseo Real Water Reclamation Facility (PRWRF) back to the Rio Grande. This will allow the City to release less water from upstream reservoirs on the Rio Grande, while diverting the same amount of water at the Buckman Direct Diversion (BDD), stretching the City’s supply of renewable imported surface water without changing the amount of water in the Rio Grande. Increased surface water supplies will reduce the City’s need to use groundwater, allowing the City and Buckman aquifers to continue to recharge, while increasing resiliency to drought, wildfire, and climate change and meeting future municipal demand.
In 2022, the City filed an application with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer for a return flow credit needed for the Return Flow Project. WildEarth Guardians protested the application based on concerns that sending the City’s recycled wastewater to the Rio Grande instead of the Lower Santa Fe River could significantly reduce flows in the Lower Santa Fe River, negatively impacting the health of the river ecosystem and downstream water users.
After months of negotiations, WildEarth Guardians and the City were able to agree on a series of measures to resolve Guardians’ concerns and formalize the desire of the City to maintain the health of the riparian corridor downstream of the PRWRF. Daniel Timmons, Wild Rivers Program Director for WildEarth Guardians, said: “The City of Santa Fe deserves credit for working collaboratively with WildEarth Guardians to identify a path forward to help secure the City’s water supply for the future, while also protecting the important ecological, cultural, and economic values of a flowing Santa Fe River.”
The settlement agreement provides operational parameters, including minimum monthly flow volumes below the City’s Paseo Real Water Reclamation Facility, to ensure the Lower Santa Fe River continues to maintain connected flow downstream to the natural springs at Cienguilla. The City will implement restoration enhancements in the riparian zone along the Lower Santa Fe River to enhance water quality and improve riparian habitat conditions. Finally, the City will also support flows in the Rio Grande by leasing a portion of its surface water rights for environmental, instream purposes.
After signing the settlement agreement, City of Santa Fe Mayor Alan Weber made the following statement: “This deal is truly a win-win. The San Juan-Chama Return Flow Project is a key piece of infrastructure needed to secure the City’s long-term water supply needs, essential for the City to continue to thrive in the decades ahead. But through these negotiations, we’ve also figured out a way to protect a living, flowing Santa Fe River that is so beloved by our community.”