June 2, 2015

Santolina water worries are real concern | by Dr. Virginia Necochea

Print
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]DR. VIRGINIA NECOCHEA is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Sustainable Systems and an organizer with the Contra Santolina Working Group.[/box]

The Albuquerque Journal’s editorial board is at it again. Many of us wonder if it is at all possible for them to write a piece that at minimum veers more towards a neutral stance rather than their usual favoritism towards developers and monied interests.

Dr. Virginia Nicochea

As someone who has sat through almost every single hearing on the Santolina Master Plan, it becomes quite obvious that the Journal’s editorial board has not been present. Their latest piece titled – “Water worries overblown concern for Santolina,” clearly demonstrates their severe lack of what has been defined by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as ethical journalism. SPJ states, “ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” Obviously the Journal’s editorial board missed that lesson.

A title speaks volumes to the content one will read. Clearly the editorial board must be composed of informed individuals who understand that the Southwest region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the last 1,000 year period[1]. An article featured in Science Advances in February 2015 titled – “Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” contradicts the essence of the title featured in the Journal. Many of the Journal’s own stories[2] covering continued drought in New Mexico contradict the stand of their own editorial board.

Much of the editorial board’s argument is founded on a letter that was provided by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) during the July 2014 Bernalillo County Planning Commission hearing on the Santolina Master Plan that states ABCWUA is capable of serving the water needs of the proposed Santolina development. This letter created a shift in the Santolina discussion and it had the power to convince many that the water requirements needed to support Santolina were no longer an issue. Of course, those outside the realm of the developers and skewed political circles found ABCWUA’s letter questionable at best.

The following direct quote from ABCWUA’s executive director, Mark Sanchez on March 25, 2015 is also illustrative:

With regard to the letter which was sent to the CPC, I think it was taken a little out of context. It’s been represented that we either endorsed it or committed service, neither of which is the case. We were simply asked a question by staff and the CPC could the water authority serve this development, and the answer was yes. However, they would have to meet all the policies and ordinances.

Moreover, what is not surprising is the editorial board’s omission of the various documents that have been submitted over the last several months that have called into question the validity and soundness of the ABCWUA’s letter and the developer’s claims regarding water availability for Santolina. And, of course the editorial board would certainly not include any mention of Commissioner Art De La Cruz’s antagonistic behavior during the testimony of one of New Mexico’s recognized and respected water experts, Norm Gaume. Many in the audience who have grown accustomed to the condescension from Commissioner De La Cruz towards many of his own constituents and county staff, were shocked when Commissioner De La Cruz in a sarcastic tone asked of Norm Gaume – “What is your position?”

Commissioner De La Cruz’s outright harassment and attempts to discredit an expert were unwarranted and outright disrespectful, but yet those behaviors have gone largely unnoticed and unchecked. If someone takes the time to read the report[3] submitted by Mr. Gaume to the Bernalillo County Commissioners that problematizes the assertions that there’s plenty of water for Santolina and beyond, then they can begin to understand the reactiveness of Commissioner De La Cruz who coincidentally also sits on the ABCWUA board[4]. Interesting how that conflict of interest is never mentioned.

Mr. Gaume’s (p.1) report states that,

Water to meet Santolina’s large proposed new annual water demands is not legally available for two reasons: (1) ABCWUA does not have the water rights to supply Santolina, and (2) existing consumptive uses of water in the Middle Rio Grande exceed the legally available supply. Neither Bernalillo County nor the ABCWUA have provided a basis for any finding that water for Santolina is physically available.

Furthermore, Mr. Gaume states, “Santolina’s additional depletions would substantially increase the difficulties of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Compact compliance, the risk of non-­‐compliance, the ABCWUA’s associated risk of curtailment of its junior water rights, and the impact of such a curtailment on ABCWUA’s existing customers. Others in the Middle Rio Grande also would be adversely affected.” I am not a water expert but certainly the message is clear, the public should be more than a little worried about the impacts Santolina would pose on our already strained water system in New Mexico.

Mr. Gaume used the example of a 3-legged stool to summarize the essential components needed in providing Santolina with the water it requires. Mr. Gaume states that there are three essential components: 1. Legal rights to divert and consume water; 2. The physical availability of those rights; and 3. Infrastructure to deliver the water supply to its customers. Thus far, the developers have only demonstrated one component – infrastructure as per ABCWUA’s letter. That means that the Santolina water stool has only one shaky leg.

Mr. Gaume went further and compared the water Santolina would require to Intel, Santa Fe, and Rio Rancho. The following sums up his comparisons[5]:

Santolina acre feetIn closing, after looking at the sound research provided in Mr. Gaume’s report, it becomes obvious that the Journal editorial board’s assertion on water worries over the Santolina development are severely under-blown and work to legitimize the developers. Maybe the editorial board should invest time in not only attending some of the Bernalillo County hearings on Santolina, but should also invest time in conducting adequate research on the topic before they publish their narrow and dramatic rants.

[1] See http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400082 for full article.

[2] See http://www.abqjournal.com/589248/abqnewsseeker/may-showers-do-little-for-severe-drought-in-four-corners.html; http://www.abqjournal.com/522723/news/new-mexico-at-risk-of-fifth-year-of-drought-sapped-rivers.html

[3] Contact info@cesoss.org for an electronic copy of Norm Gaume’s report.

[4] http://www.abcwua.org/Governing_Board_1.aspx

[5] Taken from Mr. Gaume’s slides used during his presentation to BCC on May 28, 2015