By KAY MATTHEWS
The Bureau of Reclamation finally released the Record of Decision for the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This project, of course, is the linchpin of the 53 year old, highly contested Aamodt Adjudication that was finalized in 2017 with the approval of the Final Decree of the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act. The Bureau and parties to the adjudication also signed off on the proposed amendment to the Settlement that I wrote about in a July 19 La Jicarita article.
Does this mean the Bureau is ready to break ground? Only if it’s prepared to start a multi-million dollar project before all the funding is in place. After rising costs of the regional water system threatened to derail implementation of the Settlement (originally stipulated for completion by 2024) Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill in Congress to increase the total funding for the system. For Pueblo construction costs the bill would strike ‘‘$106,400,000’’ and insert ‘‘$256,400,000’.’ Funding for the Regional Water System would be amended by striking ‘‘$50,000,000’’ and inserting‘‘$200,000,000’’; and by striking ‘‘2024’’ and inserting ‘‘2028’’ as the required completion date. This bill has yet to be approved.
The amended agreement the Aamodt parties signed with the Bureau reduces the initial capacity of the system from the original 4,000 acre feet per year (afy) capacity to 2,500 afy until demand in the basin requires expansion to the full build-out, deferring county costs of $24 million. But the agreement stipulates that 1,000 afy of water earmarked for the non-pueblo water users in the valley can be sent to a “tee” located at the intersection of Bishop’s Lodge Road and Tesuque Road so that the county “may use unused capacity, if any, to supply water within the County outside of the Pojoaque Basin on an interim basis.”
The Tesuque water line substantiates longtime suspicions that the county’s claim it would not transfer water below Otowi Gauge—which divides the upper and middle basins—was dubious at best and an outright lie at worst. Now the plumbing will be in place to eventually send more water south.
The Bureau’s Record of Decision press release sets out the major components of the chosen Alternative E in the FEIS:
• Water supply for the project will come from flows from the hyporheic zone (saturated area just below ground next to and/or under a stream) of the Rio Grande (including Top of the World water rights) along with water rights acquired from the San Juan/Chama Project.
• Four horizontal radial well collectors will be placed on the east bank of the Rio Grande on San Ildefonso Pueblo. (They make sure to point out that this location is north of Otowi Bridge.)
• The water treatment plant will be located on the west side of County Road 101D, north of SH 502.
• Seven short term storage tanks along with 14 existing tanks will be used. This is in lieu of the originally proposed Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) system that proved unfeasible.
• There will be 151 miles of water distribution pipelines and 6 pumping plants.
• There will be approximately 7 miles of new overhead and buried electrical distribution lines with potential distributed solar generation .
The press release states that limited construction of the river intake will begin in early 2020. The rest of the project will be implemented in three phases. Phase 1 will include finishing construction of the intake structures, water treatment plant, transmission pipelines, storage tanks, and pump stations up to the Nambé pump station. Phase 2 includes the remaining transmission pipelines, storage tanks, and pump stations. Phase 3 includes new distribution lines. Remember, many non-pueblo water users have opted out of the water delivery system to retain use of the wells. As La Jicarita has reported for many years, non-pueblo water users lobbied for a waste treatment system, not a water delivery system.
So here we have a plan that will supposedly provide 4,000 afy of water to four pueblos and an unknown number of non-pueblo water users that is going to cost $456 million. Will that water be safe to drink? How much will homeowners be charged for it? Will there actually be 4,000 afy of water to serve these communities as our climate crisis continues: snowpack rates drop, mountain run-off is reduced, and the mighty Rio Grande and Colorado (where the San Juan/Chama water originates in a tributary) rivers dry up as more straws are dipped in. Yesterday’s Global Climate Strike puts adjudications like the Aamodt in the spotlight for their failure to factor in the climate crisis that may well render them obsolete.