Last week, the City of Santa Fe put the brakes on a plan to put more than 50 water monitoring stations in neighborhoods throughout Santa Fe.
The announcement comes after outcry from residents, such as those living in the Valle Piedras neighborhood near Bishop’s Lodge Road, who say city officials never informed them of the installations.
SFR has learned the monitoring stations were intended to address problems the city has had in the past with broken water mains. Take last January, for example, when freezing temperatures caused water mains near Canyon Road and Camino Carlos Rael to freeze and rupture.
In early August, city contractors planted a device to monitor water pressure—a 20-foot high antenna—on vacant property near Valley Drive.
Soon after, neighbors, who were not notified about the equipment and unsure as to its purpose, began calling and e-mailing city officials.
“Seems like their operational method was, ‘Let’s put this in, and whoever complains, we’ll deal with that then,’” Stewart Kane, who lives with his wife, Judy, across the street from the antenna, says.
Kane was one of 14 Valle Piedras residents gathered on the street in front of his house on Aug. 21 to discuss, with city staff, the situation.
According to Engineer Supervisor Brian Snyder, the antennas, along with the 6-foot square enclosures that sit adjacent to them, monitor water pressure. When there is a malfunction in the water lines and a valve is stuck open, it over-pressurizes the system and causes one water main to break. This in turn causes more mains to break. Utility workers can’t assess the situation without physically going into manholes and checking it out.
But with the monitoring system, utility workers can see the problem remotely and shut off water before the over-pressurization “ripple effect” occurs.
Constituent Services Division Director Sevastian Gurule says checking for breaks remotely will be faster, more efficient and less expensive. Without the system, “you can tear up literally 200 or 300 feet of pavement, and the repavement of that can cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “If we can identify where that break occurred, we can reduce the cost to the taxpayers significantly.”
Water Division Director Gary Martinez says the system is also safer; employees have been injured and killed in manholes.
Be that as it may, the system was a hard sell to neighbors—particularly after the fact.
“What we’re concerned with is that you’re creating a nuisance,” Kane said at the public gathering, as his neighbors nodded. He added that the antenna obstructs his view of the mountains, which, another neighbor notes, “is why we all moved here anyway.” Further, the 6-foot square boxes make a slurping sound from the water being sucked through the system.
“You can hear the noise from 250 feet away,” Kane’s wife, Judy says.
As evidence of Kane’s frustration, he planted a large yellow sign in front of the antenna: “CALL THE MAYOR TO REMOVE THIS TOWER 955-6590”.
SFR did call Mayor David Coss, who had this to say:
“I don’t think we did a good enough job notifying residents. We got a little too much on, ‘We need to do this, it’s a technical thing, the engineers know how to do this…’ without adequate discussion with the neighbors.”
Engineer Supervisor Snyder apologized to residents for the communication lapse, cautiously adding that there are alternatives to the current plan.
“There are other [technologies] out there that are not as reliable,” he says. “Like a direct connection to Qwest. But using telephone lines—that’s not as reliable as this system.” The city currently transmits info via radio waves, which are incompatible with cell phone lines.
Piggybacking onto cell phone towers would eliminate the need for stand-alone antennas, Water Division Director Martinez says, but considering the radio network is already in use elsewhere in town, two different systems would complicate the city’s efforts to monitor water flow. “It would be very difficult,” he says.
The city is reviewing options and City Councilor Chris Calvert says he’s open to other suggestions from constituents. Due to the neighborhood complaints, there will be a public meeting on Sept. 11.
“We didn’t coordinate this well,” Calvert says. “We’re going to try to talk with neighborhoods before we slap those ugly poles in.”
The pole by Kane’s house has since been removed.
“I think it is what we all wanted… it was an eyesore,” Kane, who also removed his Coss sign over the weekend, says. “The neighborhood had a meeting and they were considerate enough to listen to our views.”