Farewell andThank You!

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - OURWATERQUALITY - STEPHEN WI­MAN

It is the time inmy life to pur­sue other re­tire­ment in­ter­ests with the hope that some­one with a tech­ni­cal back­ground will as­sume my place in writ­ing a col­umn on water qual­ity and sup­ply in our com­mu­nity. In clos­ing, I would like to re­view how the col­umn started and then evolved over the 10 years I have writ­ten it.

The col­umn has al­ways been called “OurWater Qual­ity” and that ti­tle re­flect­edmy ini­tial in­ter­est in water. When I first ap­proached HOME Real Estate Guide editor PaulWei­de­man, I ex­pressed my con­cern about the un­founded tech­ni­cal ra­tio­nale that some com­peti­tors in the water treat­ment busi­ness were ex­pound­ing. I knew some of that in­for­ma­tion to be in­cor­rect and that if I were not sure about its ve­rac­ity, I cer­tainly knew how to find the an­swers be­cause of my re­search ex­pe­ri­ence from my ed­u­ca­tion in phys­i­cal sci­ence and my pri­mary ca­reer (petroleum ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment).

My first con­cerns in­volved in­ves­ti­gat­ing all the mis­per­cep­tions about the Buck­man Di­rect Di­ver­sion fa­cil­ity the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County were building for the pur­poses of en­hanc­ing our water sup­ply port­fo­lio. There was cer­tainly a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion in the press re­gard­ing Los Alamoe Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory (LANL) con­tam­i­nants in our water sup­ply. It was well known that there was ura­nium in well water in the Santa Fe area. I worked with LANL (Dr. Patrick Longmire) and the New Mex­ico En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment (Dennis McQuillen) to set up a re­gional well-water-test­ing pro­gram in 2009. We ben­e­fited greatly, in this and other ven­tures, from the Small Busi­ness As­sis­tance pro­gram funded by LANL.

We tested hun­dreds of pri­vate wells in Santa Fe County and con­cluded (again) that ura­nium was con­cen­trated along the moun­tain front be­cause it was a nat­u­ral byprod­uct of the me­chan­i­cal and chem­i­cal break­down of granitic base­ment rocks. In the Nambé area, ad­di­tional ge­o­logic fac­tors, such as ex­posed ura­nium-ore de­posits, con­trib­uted to lev­els of dis­solved ura­nium lev­els in ground­wa­ter that were off the charts. With these col­leagues and oth­ers from the city, county, and LANL, we worked to re­peat (for the third time) a study of ura­nium iso­topes in well water to con­clu­sively con­firm that ura­nium present in­wells east of the Rio Grande is nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring and not an­thro­pogenic ura­nium pro­duced at LANL.

Wewere able to de­velop a sim­ple map that in­di­cated ar­eas where one would ex­pect higher con­cen­tra­tions of the three most im­por­tant health-risk con­tam­i­nants for which geographic oc­cur­rence can be pre­dicted: ar­senic, flu­o­ride, and ura­nium. The fourth ma­jor lo­cal con­tam­i­nant is ni­trate, which is typ­i­cally very lo­cal­ized and is a prod­uct of sep­tic con­tam­i­na­tion. Ni­trate is not a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring con­tam­i­nant in this area.

My best ad­vice for well own­ers is to get a com­pre­hen­sive lab­o­ra­tory test of your water. This is es­pe­cially true for peo­ple in the Nambé area. Although some free well-water test­ing is avail­able, such as at water fairs ca­pa­bly con­ducted by the New Mex­ico En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment, these tests are usu­ally not com­pre­hen­sive: they may not in­clude ev­ery­thing that should be of con­cern to the own­ers of pri­vate wells. Own­ers com­monly con­cern them­selves with eas­ily iden­ti­fied and rec­og­nized prob­lems, such as hard­ness and iron stain­ing (which are not reg­u­lated by EPA “max­i­mum con­tam­i­na­tion lev­els,” even in pub­lic water sup­plies) but over­look the more im­por­tant health-risk con­tam­i­nants not vis­i­ble or de­tectable by smell and which can only be de­tected by lab-test­ing.

Through my mem­ber­ship on the­Wa­ter Conservation Com­mit­tee, I be­came in­creas­ingly in­volved with our water sup­ply and long-term plan­ning to en­sure a suf­fi­cient and safe sup­ply. Water conservation in the City of Santa Fe re­ally be­gan with emer­gency reg­u­la­tions im­posed dur­ing ex­treme droughts start­ing in 1995 and in­cluded sea­sonal ir­ri­ga­tion hours and tiered water pric­ing im­posed by the Santa Fe City Coun­cil. Since the in­cep­tion of mon­i­tor­ing, water con­sump­tion in Santa Fe has de­clined from 168 gpcd (gal­lons per capita per day) in 1995 to 90 gpcd in 2015. We could still do bet­ter in re­duc­ing our con­sump­tion by us­ing rain de­tec­tors to shut off ir­ri­ga­tion after storma, us­ing gray water within our homes (which will soon be in­cor­po­rated for new con­struc­tion in the Green Building Code) and us­ing catch­ment water for land­scape ir­ri­ga­tion. Just as newhomes are rated ac­cord­ing to a scale known as HERS (Home En­ergy Rat­ing Sys­tem), Santa Feans should be proud to know that the new WERS (Water Ef­fi­ciency Rat­ing Score) was de­vel­oped here and is spread­ing na­tion­wide.

Most re­cently I turned my at­ten­tion to­ward the pos­si­ble ef­fects of cli­mate change and the un­pre­dictabil­ity of our sur­face-water sup­ply (from the Ni­chols and McClure reser­voirs in the Santa Fe River Wa­ter­shed) and the water we ex­tract from the Rio Grande at the Buck­man Di­rect Di­ver­sion, which is at­trib­ut­able to ei­ther na­tive Rio Grande water rights or water im­ported from the Upper Colorado River and con­veyed to the Rio Grande via the San Juan-Chama Project.

With­out ques­tion we should all be con­cerned about cli­mate change and learn to con­serve water even fur­ther. We will cer­tainly see changes in howwe use treat­ed­wastew­a­ter in the fu­ture. I don’t pre­dict that we will soon see di­rect potable re­use (“toi­let-to-tap”) for our mu­nic­i­pal sup­ply, but one can­make a case that we are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it as treated wastew­a­ter is con­veyed into the Rio Grande up­stream from the Buck­man Di­rect Di­ver­sion and then treated to EPA stan­dards for do­mes­tic use. For­tu­nately, the City and County opted for a rig­or­ous new treat­ment sys­tem at Buck­man and there are re­dun­dant sys­tems to en­sure the safety of our pro­cessed water. If you still worry that LANL con­tam­i­nants make their way into our water sup­ply, I re­mind you of the early no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in LosAlamos Canyon and Pue­blo Canyon. When­ever a stormevent is recorded there, the sys­tem mon­i­tor sig­nals Buck­man Di­rect Di­ver­sion op­er­a­tors to cease di­ver­sion un­til an in­creased fre­quency of water test results in­di­cate that it is safe to re­sume di­ver­sion from the Rio Grande.

Sure, there were com­plaints about high water bills as­so­ci­ated with the chang­ing out of water me­ters around the city, but the new Badger sys­tem al­lows water-con­nec­tion sub­scribers to care­fully mon­i­tor their own con­sump­tion. There is a sig­nif­i­cant and sin­cere com­mit­ment on the part ofWa­ter Divi­sion staff to en­sure our fu­ture­wa­ter se­cu­rity and sup­ply and there is def­i­nitely a strong fo­cus on mit­i­gat­ing against the ex­pected con­se­quences of cli­mate change.

A con­fer­ence on max­i­miz­ing our water conservation from all avail­able sources is in the ini­tial plan­ning stages for mid-2017 and it will be open to the pub­lic. I am also very op­ti­mistic about the re­cent hiring of Chris­tine Chavez as the city’s newwa­ter conservation man­ager as she has brought new life to the­Wa­ter Conservation Com­mit­tee.

Spe­cial thanks to PaulWei­de­man for his ed­i­to­rial guid­ance and for al­low­ing me to sub­mit and pub­lish col­umns to the Santa Fe New Mex­i­can. And thanks to my loyal read­ers, many of whom have ex­pressed to me that they have en­joyed read­ing my col­umn, which I have thor­oughly en­joyed writ­ing.

Go well and keep on mind­ing (and re­duc­ing) your water con­sump­tion.

StephenWi­man holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in ge­ol­ogy and is a re­tired petroleum ge­ol­o­gist. He spent 11 years lo­cally in water test­ing, in­ter­pre­ta­tion of test results, and water re­me­di­a­tion. He is a mem­ber of the City of Santa Fe’sWater Conservation Com­mit­tee and he serves on the board of the Santa FeWater­shed As­so­ci­a­tion. He may be reached at skwiman@icloud.com.

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