September 11, 2008

Ground Broken ; Site Preparation Begins for $182 Million Water Project in Santa Fe

By Raam Wong Journal Staff Writer

Starting this week, workers are clearing brush, laying pipe and otherwise moving forward on the construction of a $182 million project that will pump water from the Rio Grande and into Santa Fe homes.

The big project on the Big River will convey water more than 11 miles to a new 15 million gallons per day treatment plant not far from the city's golf course.

It was there, at the future site of the Buckman Direct Diversion Project, where local leaders broke ground Wednesday on the mammoth undertaking meant to secure sustainable water supplies.

"Given the wet summer we just had, some people might believe water is not an issue," said City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, who chairs the project oversight committee. "But we know that's just not true."

Aquifers are currently being overpumped, she said, while Santa Fe River reservoirs supply only about half the region's needs in the wettest of years.

Planning on the joint city-county project has been under way for more than six years. Las Campanas is also a partner and will treat a portion of the water for its residents at a separate plant. The affluent subdivision is paying $15 million of the cost of the project -- which totals $215 million when you add up the legal, insurance and other costs -- while the city and county are splitting the rest equally, according to project manager Rick Carpenter.

The city is proposing to raise water rates nearly 7 percent every year during the next seven years to help cover the costs. Other funding sources for the city and county include general obligation and revenue bonding, gross receipts taxes and $13 million in grants.

Project officials have repeatedly made unsuccessful visits to Washington to ask for money, though Wurzburger joked the trips provided a chance to introduce her colleagues to the fashions at the famed Filene's Basement.

The project will annually provide the city with 5,232 acre-feet of water, the county with 1,700 acre-feet and Las Campanas with 1,800 acre-feet, Carpenter said. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

The water will be diverted from the river at a station about three miles below the Otowi Bridge. Two booster pumping stations will move the water uphill through a 1,100-foot elevation change and 11 miles to the new water treatment plant near the Municipal Recreational Complex. Two more pumping stations will deliver the water through 15 miles of new pipeline to city and county customers.

The Buckman Direct Diversion Project is slated to be operational by March 2011. The project is named for a now-abandoned settlement on the east bank of the Rio Grande where lumberman H.F. Buckman once cut timber and built sawmills.

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