The City of Santa Fe is near the Rio Grande Valley at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains and is surrounded by the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 37-square mile city has a semi-arid climate with hot summers and low-humidity winters. Santa Fe residents enjoy over 300 days of sunshine a year.
The City of Santa Fe’s Water Division is responsible for managing the city’s drinking water supplies, which come from 3 local sources: (1) the Santa Fe River, (2) the Rio Grande, and (3) groundwater from the Tesuque Formation Aquifer. The Division also oversees the city’s water reuse and water conservation programs and municipal watershed management. Over the last few decades, faced water availability, reliability, and quality challenges due to limited and variable surface water, declining aquifer levels, and climate change.
In the face of these water management challenges and to supply the city with clean water, Santa Fe uses both regulatory and financial tools to implement water conservation and efficiency strategies in the community. This dual approach established conservation mandates and offered financial incentives for water-saving retrofits. As to its regulatory mandates, in 1997, Santa Fe adopted a “Comprehensive Water Conservation Requirements Ordinance” meant to reduce per capita water demands via water conservation regulations that apply to all water—potable or effluent—and all customers of city water or wastewater services. To implement Santa Fe’s conservation mandates, the Division also established multiple financial programs for ratepayers, including a leak repair loan program and a broad range of water conservation rebates for residential and commercial customer investments in everything from laundry to landscape systems, indoor appliances, smart irrigation controllers, and rain barrels. Further, highly variable water supplies, and therefore water conservation, have been a part of life in Santa Fe throughout the city’s 400-year history. To empower local ratepayers to continue to take charge of their water use, the Santa Fe City Council and the Division also work to foster conservation as a part of the long-standing community culture with educational and outreach programs. To support these important programs, the Division has a conservation budget of approximately $230,000 a year that is funded, at least in part, by the City’s “levee fund”—a separate conservation fee collected from utility customers. The City can also use the proceeds in its “conservation fund” that is fueled by an annual fee on any of the Division’s various conservations program.
By deploying localized water management strategies on a community-wide basis and making large-scale investments in rebate programs, the Division has reduced water consumption in Santa Fe by nearly 42%, kept rates affordable for all customers, reduced energy consumption associated with water production, treatment, and distribution, and engaged 95% of city residents in water conservation among many other benefits. And Santa Fe’s conservation efforts have helped the Division reduce total water system demand by ~30% as compared with 20 years ago, which saves money.
From Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as part of WaterNow’s Tap into Resilience initiative, WaterNow has interviewed over a dozen city and utility leaders already tapping into localized water strategies for fast, affordable, and impactful solutions to their water challenges. All the details of the Santa Fe’s Tap into Resilience case study is part of on WaterNow’s campaign website here. Santa Fe’s Water Resources Coordinator, Andrew Erdmann, also spoke about these programs at WaterNow’s most recent Tap into Resilience Summit in Austin, Texas. WaterNow members can access the summit materials through the member portal.