(A little weekend reading on water, life and the future of the Santa Fe watershed. The story's after the jump.)more

David Harrington, who is beanpole-tall and sports an old-fashioned ten-gallon-style felt hat, came to yesterday's State of the Santa Fe Watershed Conference wearing jeans, a puffy red vest, work boots and a red-and-black plaid shirt that he most certainly has owned since long before the Gap began its plaid-for-Christmas ad campaign.

Harrington is the owner of Squash Blossom Farm and a former mayordomo in La Bajada—a position that seems to have intimately acquainted him with

water and scarcity.

"Our water rights date back to 1827—the oldest water rights in the county—and we're at the bottom,"

Harrington said, gesturing expansively before the audience of hydrologists, city and county employees and environmentalists at the downtown Hilton. “When the water starts drying up and we start looking around [to see] who's got an extra quarter to put in the kitty...” He trails off.

"We might have a lot of water rights, but it's hard to fight people with thousands of dollars,"

Harrington concluded. His speech was, quite literally, the last word. The conference, an expertly run series of 30-minute panels on topics ranging from agriculture to storm water management to the Santa Fe River trails, had been going for three and a half hours, and Harrington seemed intent on prodding deeper into the concept of a Santa Fe Watershed than each panelist's four or five minutes would allow.

For the most part, the presentations were upbeat and encouraging. Wendy Blackwell, the City's floodplain administrator, introduced the city's residential

; her enthusiasm was indomitable. Brian Drypolcher, the acting city river coordinator, spoke of the Santa Fe River's ability to

"stitch our river together."

(Less encouragingly, he described parts of the process for restoring the urban river as “dramatic and traumatic.”) Rici Peterson of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust gave an inspiring account of trails as “

our connection to the land and the river

," and the only vaguely worrisome moment was when the New Mexico Environment Department's remediation manager, Alex Puglisi, couldn't seem to get through his lengthy list of water contamination problems in the allotted time.

Bryan Bird of

probably said it best: “We're working on every inch of this river.” And it seems true; being in that expansive conference room with its little bowls of hard candy and endless pitchers of ice water,

it was easy to imagine that everybody cares about the Santa Fe River.

Oddly enough, though, it was Bird's own presentation on Wild Earth Guardians' plans to restore the lower river that elicited the most resistance from the La Bajada guys. Harrington said he hadn't been contacted by the Guardians and expressed concern over the removal of nonnative species, which can sometimes eliminate wildlife habitat, forage or shade cover.

But there was plenty of good news, too, and Harrington and Bird will have a chance to hash it out anyway at the public meeting on the restoration of the lower Santa Fe River watershed Dec 17. Come and weigh in on

. Or, actually, maybe David Groenfeldt of the

has the answer right here:

"Most people in Santa Fe don't know we have a watershed. If they did, they wouldn't sit quietly while it gets dammed up. If we open our watershed [to recreational use, etc.], we will eventually have a living river.

Most people believe we don't have water, so the river is dry."


Photo courtesy City of Santa Fe.