Groundwater wells that have mostly been resting on the city's west side since the construction of a Rio Grande diversion are likely to get put back into action this summer.
Dismal snowpack and low rainfall so far this spring mean water in the river is scarce.
These have long been the plans in Santa Fe, where officials decided in the early 2000s to build a massive infrastructure project to draw water off the river. The Buckman Direct Diversion went online in 2011, becoming a fourth source in the water supply portfolio for Santa Fe's homes and businesses, along with two well fields and the Rio Grande. Since the reservoirs on the smaller Santa Fe River are also low due to the drought conditions, that leaves the wells.
The city's policy is to "minimize groundwater use in years when surface water availability is limited—like this year," reads a memo from water utility staff to diversion board managers late last month explaining the plan.
City Water Division Director Rick Carpenter tells SFR he doesn't anticipate a supply problem this season.
"Those wells have all been resting and the water levels are coming up. Two examples that I can give are two Buckman wells that have recovered so much that they have gone artesian, which means that the water is coming out of them, we don't even have to pump them," he says. "So the aquifer is recovered. That is always what we had hoped for. If we do have to pump the wells all summer, we should be fine."
Most of the water drawn each year at the Buckman is technically water piped into the Rio Grande over the continental divide from the San Juan River in Colorado to the Chama River in New Mexico. And that—coupled with availability of other water to carry it, and additional water from local reservoirs—has been able to meet the majority of demand in recent years. Not so for this summer.
The memo contemplates two operational scenarios: one in which the diversion is shut down for three months, and one in which it draws just enough water to stay open.
Conservation education and restrictions in the city have led to water use generally declining over the past two decades. Officials say the city would likely need about 10,000 acre-feet this year, and given the surface water shortage, just over half that is expected to now come from the wells. During July and August, more water would be produced from wells than any other source.
If the rivers stay dry past one or two summers, however, all that could rapidly change, as Carpenter notes.
"A long drought that goes for years and years is completely a different challenge than one that goes on for one or two," he says.
The city's normal dry-season water restrictions are set to kick in from May 1 to Oct. 31, and Carpenter says he's not aware of any plans to make use rules tougher.