Climate change is raising temperatures and the likelihood that our region will experience drought conditions and water scarcity more frequently in the future. It’s important to understand where our water comes from, how much water we’re using, and how we can all conserve this precious natural resource.
Gallons Per Capita Per Day (GPCD) measures how much water the average person uses each day. In 2020, Santa Fe’s GPCD was 93 gallons, up from 87 gallons in 2019. Overall, however, the City of Santa Fe has lowered its GPCD by more than 30% since purchasing the City of Santa Fe Water Company (CSFW) in 1995, despite a steady increase in the City’s population. Reducing the amount of water that we use helps to make our City more resilient during times of drought and minimal rain.
Source: City of Santa Fe, Annual Water Report, 2020.
In addition to our groundwater, the City relies on two sources of surface water: the Santa Fe River (which mostly depends on melting snow from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains) and the San Juan-Chama Project (which diverts water from the Rio Grande River to the City). The San Juan-Chama Return Flow Pipeline is a proposed 17-mile pipeline that will return unconsumed water from the San Juan-Chama Project that is collected in the City sewer system and treated at the Paseo Real Water Reclamation Facility back to the Rio Grande. This project will allow the City to stretch our San Juan-Chama water two to three times further than we do currently, increasing resiliency to drought and wildfires. This project will also help Santa Fe to meet growing demand for water in the future.
Planning for the Future
The City of Santa Fe is committed to protecting and conserving water resources for the future. The City and County have initiated a joint science-based and community-informed process to create water resource management plans that in the case of the City will extend out as far as 2100. This long term water resources planning effort is in addition to its complementary but more near-term 5-Year Water Conservation and Drought Management Plan.
City Water Bank
Since 2010, the City Water Bank has directly connected new development projects with available water supply. When new buildings are constructed, there is typically an increase in water demand. The Water Bank requires developers to offset any new demand on the water utility system, which helps the City to maintain sufficient water rights and capacity to meet the increased demand. Considering water resources as our City grows is crucial to developing in a more sustainable way.
Leading by Example: Community Education
For more than 20 years, the City of Santa Fe Water Conservation Office has advocated for water conservation methods and education, conducting extensive outreach to residents. The Passport Program works with students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, as well as high school mentors, to educate youth about recycling and stormwater management. During the annual Water Fiesta at the City’s Convention Center, around 700 local 4th graders rotate through short presentations on diverse water topics ranging from treatment processes to native amphibians. In addition, the Water Conservation Office conducts tours of water infrastructure facilities, including the treatment plant, reservoirs, and watershed, to students and interested community members.
Santa Fe receives most of its rainfall during intense and infrequent precipitation events. When it rains, stormwater can carry trash, fertilizers, car oil, pet waste and other pollutants into our waterways – unless that water is able to soak into the ground as close to the source as possible. Stormwater filtering sites can help to absorb stormwater and filter out pollutants.
In collaboration with the EPA, the City developed a stormwater management plan in 2019. As part of this re-imagining of the City’s stormwater policy, 15 stormwater filtering sites (and counting) have been installed on City properties. These sites absorb two million gallons of stormwater per year and provide many other benefits, including: erosion control, wildlife habitat, pollution reduction, shade, and natural beauty.
Community Rain Gardens
Rain gardens are a great tool for capturing and filtering stormwater. They allow water to slowly infiltrate into the ground, keeping pollutants out of the Santa Fe River. Rain gardens also help us retain water in Santa Fe's aquifer. The City and its partners, including the Santa Fe Watershed Association and Keep Santa Fe Beautiful, have built 21 rain gardens since 2012. You may have parked near one at Herb Martinez Park or walked past our newest rain garden on East Alameda without noticing, but these gardens are capturing and treating over 1.7 million gallons per year.