Farewell andThank You!
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 email@example.com.