Letter To Editor: Reassess Aamodt Settlement

17 Bend in the river A
Image of the Rio Grande taken by Valley Daily Post

Letter To Editor: Reassess Aamodt Settlement

Dear Editor

I would like to ask our State Legislators to stop funding the proposed Aamodt Settlement and allocate these funds to a proven program i.e., Pre-K education. Presently, the Aamodt Settlement requires ~$50 to $70 million of NM taxpayer dollars for a proposed county regional water system (CRWS) that will obtain water from the Rio Grande at a location north of USGS Otowi Gauging station.

Is this CRWS a good thing? Please consider the following. First, it is generally accepted that surface and subsurface waters are hydraulically connected especially in the Nambe-Pojoaque-Tesuque (NPT) basin where the aquifer is sorta like a “sponge” that provides subsurface water to  about 3,000 wells in the Pojoaque Valley, adjacent communities, and the pueblos including their casinos. This “sponge” gets recharged from the Rio Grande, the Nambe Falls Reservoir, rainfall, and unfortunately septic tanks.

There are at least two studies that substantiate there is sufficient recharge of this “sponge” to sustain the long-term water demands of the NPT basin residents. More importantly, however, these studies did not consider any recharge (i.e., return flow credit) to the aquifer from septic tanks which clearly suggests that a regional sewage system would be far more beneficial to preserve the water quality of the aquifer. Our State Engineer really needs to re-examine the hydrology of the NPT basin before any more state funds are allocated for this CRWS.

Second, of the 3,000 wells that may be eligible to connect the CRWS, only 150 well owners are willing to connect to a CRWS which is far short of the 1,500 required to economically sustain the Santa Fe County’s (SFC) portion of the CRWS at a reasonable cost/gallon.

Third, a portion of the CRWS will extend from Tesuque Pueblo to Bishop’s Lodge. The reason for this extension is totally confusing as there are many other large geographical areas that are part of the Settlement agreement where the CRWS will NOT installed causing these areas to have absolutely no source of water! Is this CRWS an attempt to bypass the provisions of the New Mexico-Texas Water Compact as any water passing through the Otowi Gauging station is subject to this Compact?

Fourth, the Aamodt Settlement requires the pueblos at no cost to provide easements for the construction and operation the CRWS. There is absolutely no guarantee this will occur because the duration of these easements are not defined in the Settlement. With the ongoing problems between SFC and the pueblos in negotiating easement agreements, the SFC Commissioners in August 2015 passed a resolution to stop funding their portion of the CRWS until these problems have been resolved. Without knowing the long term easement costs for the CRWS and the location of  service lines to connect potential county residents/customers to the CRWS, it seems virtually impossible for the Bureau of Reclamation to accurately estimate and assess the impact of the CRWS as required by the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System Environmental Impact Statement.

Fifth, a Joint Powers Agreement between the pueblo governments and SFC needs to be executed to create a regional water authority (RWA) to manage/operate the CRWS. To date, the pueblo governments refuse to agree to a balanced representation for non-pueblo county customers by limiting SFC representation to ONE RWA member of five.

Finally, the Aamodt Settlement requires approval by the State Legislature which has NOT occurred. Consequently, community members of the Aamodt Settlement have submitted a legal appeal in Federal court to require this approval.

So what makes sense . funding more pre-K education or funding a totally ill-justified CRWS akin to a “bridge to nowhere”.

Dave Neal

El Rancho, NM