Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t work very well in a drought-ridden state. The piper must always be paid—pun intended.

A proposed 17-mile pipeline by the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County could significantly change how and where water flows in the lower Santa Fe River. The water pipeline project intends to transport 2,200 acre-feet of water from the San Juan-Chama Project that now flows down the lower Santa Fe River into the Rio Grande instead.

Opponents to the project say the lower Santa Fe River water flow the city and the county intend to reroute to the Rio Grande is vital to the plant, wildlife and communities that rely on the Santa Fe River flow.

“This project is expected to reduce flows in the lower Santa Fe River by up to 50 percent,” said Tricia Snyder, Rio Grande campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “That could translate into really significant impacts for the plant, fish, wildlife and human communities that depend on this reach of the river. These potential impacts need to be taken seriously and be subject to a thorough evaluation.”

Since the San-Juan Chama Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal review is being conducted on the water transfer to evaluate potential impacts to the environment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The NEPA process requires reclamation. Reclamation is conducting an initial public outreach of potential impacts. If the pipeline is deemed to significantly affect the environment, a more detailed and rigorous Environmental Impact Statement is required.

Reclamation must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the proposal will not harm listed endangered species or their designated critical habitat.

In addition to the environmental review process under NEPA, government-to-government consultation of impacted tribal and pueblo communities, including the six middle Rio Grande pueblos, will be conducted.

“It was a really tough water year all across the American West, and climate change projections tell us it’s only going to get tougher,” added Snyder. “But we can’t let desperation for an engineered solution make us forget our responsibilities to the environment, people and cultures downstream.”

Comments must be submitted by 5pm on November 19 by email to SJCReturnFlowProject@empsi.com or by mail to Bureau of Reclamation, c/o EMPSi, 54 ½ Lincoln St., Santa Fe, NM 87501.

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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.