Tag Archives: Santolina Master Plan

Santolina about politics, not planning

by Lora Lucero / Albuquerque Resident

Published in Albuquerque Journal – March 12, 2015

The four-letter word du jour is “plan.” Everyone is doing it, but few seem to know how this verb and noun really work.The draft Santolina master plan, under consideration by the Bernalillo County Commissioners on March 25-26, is a good case in point. I predict it will be approved, but will never be built.

The 90,000 new residents living in 38,000 new homes with new parks, schools and, most importantly, new jobs miles away from Albuquerque’s urban core may be a twinkle in the developer’s eyes, but the cold, hard facts prove otherwise.

Millennials don’t want suburban sprawl development; the physical science won’t magically make more water resources available; the local governments are already struggling to maintain their existing responsibilities (roads, water & sewer lines, parks, and schools); and new jobs will trickle into the region where workers can get to work on a reliable transit system, not in their cars. That is the future.

Bernalillo County commissioners will approve the Santolina master plan in accord with politics, not based on sound planning principles, because they don’t have the experience or the state laws to support good planning.

New Mexico’s land use and planning statutes have been tweaked in recent years but they’re still fundamentally based on the legislation written in the 1960s which, itself, was based on model enabling laws drafted in the 1920s. When New Mexico planners and elected officials talk about “plans” today, they are imitating the same concepts that existed nearly a century ago. We know the world is a very different place today.

Any parent worrying about their young child’s future college education knows instinctively how to plan. What is our goal? What is the timeline? What are the challenges and impediments to reaching our goal? What resources do we have available to achieve our goal? What must we do now and how do we do it? Answer those questions and we’ve created the roadmap to get from here to there (our child in college). The same should occur for our communities, but rarely does.

Plain and simple, the Santolina developers have a goal. They want to secure legal entitlements to make a profit on their property. An approved Level A master plan is one very important step in achieving their goal because (1) the property values increase overnight and make future sales more lucrative, (2) approval of the Level A master plan sets into motion a range of self-fulfilling actions (think the regional transportation plan), and (3) Santolina will redirect energy and resources away from revitalization efforts occurring in Albuquerque’s urban core.

The timing is critical, too. The City and County have announced they are updating their joint comprehensive plan, with a commitment of more than $1.5 million. The Santolina developer wants to ensure that his master plan is a fait accompli, short circuiting a possible contrary conclusion in the new joint comprehensive plan. The regional transportation planning agency (Mid-Region Council of Governments) has almost wrapped up its new 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, recommending which transportation improvements should be funded and built to accommodate future growth in our region. The Santolina developer’s goal is to short-circuit the 2040 MTP by locking in the need for new roads and highway improvements on the far west side, contrary to what people have been telling the transportation planners.

When asked, large majorities in every age group say they prefer to live in urban and semi-urban areas rather than suburban and rural areas, and prefer that our transportation dollars be spent on preserving and maintaining the roadways we’ve already built and direct more funding towards alternative modes of transportation, such as transit and bicycle paths, rather than building new roads and highways.

Last, but not least, the joint city-county water utility folks reassure decision-makers that there are water resources available to support Santolina. “Don’t worry, be happy!” This agency was created in 2003 at the request of Bernalillo County officials who weren’t too pleased with the city’s reluctance to extend water lines outside of the city limits. They effectively disconnected water and land use decisions.

This is politics, not planning.

Lora Lucero is a retired city planner and land use attorney.


Santolina Master Plan Fact Sheet

This fact sheet provides a summary of the main reasons why many community members, organizations, ally decision-makers, non-profits, neighborhood associations, and others are OPPOSED to the Santolina Master Plan.

fact sheet page 1 fact sheet page 2


Call for La Voz Submissions due this Friday, Nov. 14th!

****We have extended the submission deadline to Friday, November 14th @ 5 PM****
Dear Community and Friends,

We are currently seeking short and informative articles to be considered for publication in our CESOSS publication – La Voz, 2nd Special Edition on the Santolina Master Plan. This is our opportunity to raise more awareness in our communities. This edition of La Voz will center on the question posed by Paul Lusk:

1) should we continue the outward sprawl of Albuquerque into new areas beyond the adopted Development Areas of the Comprehensive Plan, or 2) should we focus our physical and tax-based resources to maintain and enhance the livability, viability and sustainability of the already utility-served and committed areas?

Guidelines to be considered:

* Up to 700 words

* Uses a critical angle in addressing key issues related to the Santolina Master Plan (e.g. issues related to water, farming and agriculture, acequias, Land Grant, inconsistencies in Santolina Master Plan, political analysis, health impacts, transportation, etc.)

* Up to 2 images can be included (send in JPEG or PDF format)

We are especially looking for informative articles that help readers understand why the Santolina Master Plan is problematic at this given time. You can view the La Voz First Special Edition at – http://www.cesoss.org/assets/la-voz_santolinafinallogos.pdf

Please send your written pieces no later than FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14TH.

If you have any questions, contact the editors of La Voz at info@cesoss.org.

Thank you.

Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESOSS)

Cities not Farmers, have most of the water stored along Rio Grande

Cities not Farmers, have most of the water stored along Rio Grande

Written by Santiago Maestas, President
South Valley Regional Association of Acequias

After four years of drought cities in the Rio Grande Valley of central New Mexico have 73% of the water stored in New Mexico reservoirs: Heron, El Vado, and Abiquiu. The water stored at Cochiti is not available for agriculture or domestic and commercial purposes other than recreation. According to the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation most recent Reservoir Storage Status report to the Board of Directors of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

As of June 20th all the watershed basins in New Mexico have melted out and native flows in the Rio Grande have slowed to the point that MRGCD water bank irrigators, who sold their water rights to cities and industry, have had the water cut off. The MRGCD has only 12% of the water stored and is now dependent on native flows on the Rio Grande to maintain irrigation for the rest of the season. If monsoon rains don’t deliver as expected irrigation will be curtailed for the remaining farmers except for the pueblos.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority has most of the stored water 63% due to years of not using its annual water allocation of San Juan Chama diversion water; however, for the past 2 years since they started the Drinking Water Project they also have not been able to use their full allocation due to low river flows and have had to resort to pumping the Rio Grande basin aquifer again to meet customer demands.

Farmers and the Bosque do not have this option. As the Rio Grande dries up both the Rio Grande farmer and the endangered species that inhabit the Bosque are being threatened with extinction while cities continue to grow and consume more water.



Santolina Master Plan Threatens South and North Valley Acequias


The Santolina Development, if approved, would cover more than 13,700 acres of undeveloped land in the southwest portion of Bernalillo County. The plan area is bounded by I-40 to the north, 118th Street and the open space to the east, the Pajarito Mesa on the south, and the area adjacent to the Rio Puerco Valley on the west (Bernalillo County). This entire area, at present, has NO water rights. If this development were to be approved, the water it needs could only be provided by taking it from others, i.e. – Acequias. There is NO available water in the Rio Grande basin.

Brief Acequia History 

New Mexico is a place filled with a unique culture and connection to land and water. It is common for communities to hold a strong sense of place-based knowledge. Here, Acequias play an important role in this traditional knowledge. Acequias are hand-dug irrigation ditches that are one of the oldest water management systems in the United States that dates back to New Spain. This irrigation technology connects New Spain’s framework of water systems to the irrigation technologies from Pueblo Indians. Acequias were created to incorporate water into dry land farming, and their dependence on snowmelt from the mountains make it possible to irrigate crops (Rivera 2). Since water is a vital component to life, it is important to not only highlight the economic fruit that comes from these ancient systems, but also their cultural importance

Definition of Acequia

La Acequia: The acequia has both a physical and a social definition. The world acequia refers to the water canal that carries irrigation water from the river to fields and refers to the irrigation infrastructure along the way. The word acequia also refers to the community of families who use the acequia for irrigation. For example, one would say, “I belong to the Acequia del Monte.” (Lopez 10)


What is the Importance of Acequias?

Acequias hold great cultural and political importance to the community, because they are one of the oldest forms of self-government. Water governance by acequias is rooted in the fundamental principle that water is essential to all life and it has to be shared for the common good. These principles have been customary in the survival of water-scarce landscapes so that future generations can sow the benefits. Acequias also make it possible to cultivate locally-grown food. “They are a place-based knowledge of watershed, interconnected with food traditions, community and culture.”(Rivera, A Brief History 9) A limpia, or a ritual of cleaning the ditches, usually takes place at the beginning of spring and allows for community members to clear debris from the ditches while renewing their strong attachment to their locality in order to prepare for another year of irrigation and community connection. (Rivera, A Brief History 9) These ancient systems not only help communities connect to land and water but are vital building blocks to the local food system, healthy ecosystems and sustainable futures.

Benefits of Acequias

  • Recharge the Aquifer
  • Maintain healthy connection to land and water
  • Community and capacity building
  • Maintain the possibility to cultivate locally grown food

Do Acequias Have Rights?

Yes. Acequias have ownership of 46,272ac-ft of water in the Middle Rio Grande Basin.(SVRAA.) A “transfer” of a water right is the shifting of an existing water right to a new location or a new use or a new point of diversion. When a water right simply changes owners but the water right is not moved from the land or changed in any way, that is not considered a “transfer” and no permission is required. For example, if a piece of irrigated land is sold to a new owner and the water right remains in place with the land, this is not considered a “transfer”. (SVRAA)

“There are no longer ‘surplus waters’ in our streams or reservoirs to apply for. This has created a demand for transferring water rights by those who do not own water rights and want to have water for use in a particular location. Growing cities and developers increasingly want to transfer water rights for new development. On the other hand, people living in rural communities, who have water rights, understand that their communities will not survive or have good options for their future if they allow water rights to be exported from their communities.”


Challenges for Acequias

  • Sub Development and Urban encroachment
  • Drought
  • Population growth
  • Loss of culture and traditions
  • Loss of land and water rights
  • Lack of education related to acequia culture and history

According to a study by the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business from New Mexico State University, it is proposed that “shrinking surface water supplies and rising population will increase competition for water and raise the economic pressure to transfer water from agricultural to urban and industrial users.” (Hurd 3)

It is imperative that acequias are at the forefront of dialogues pertaining to water, since they are one of the oldest water systems in the Southwest and hold a strong significance to the community of the South Valley.

How Would Future Developments Pressure the Local Acequia Systems?

The Santolina Master Plan, as projected, would have a total demand of 38.7 million gallons per day. That would be 43,350 acre-feet a year (Santolina Master Plan, p.14). The San Juan Chama project water allocated to ALL of Albuquerque is 48,000 acre-feet. However, the projected demand by 2030 is illustrated in the summary below.

Municipality Vested Rights in Rio Grande San Juan-Chama Project Contract Estimated Demand in 2030 Excess Demand in 2030
Albuquerque 21,848 ac-ft/yr 48,200 ac-ft/yr 116,650 ac-ft/yr 46,602 ac-ft/yr

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) has projected an “Excess Demand in 2030” of 46,602 ac-ft/yr, and that does NOT include the 43,350 ac-ft/year that The Santolina Development is projecting for its development over the next 40-50 years (Santolina Master Plan, p.11).

If the Santolina Master Plan is approved, it is likely that Acequias who have ‘vested’ pre-1907 water rights would be threatened. The South Valley Regional Association of Acequias are concerned that this development would seek to acquire and “retire,” or to transfer acequia Pre-1907 water rights from irrigated lands in the Middle Rio Grande Administrative Area (MRGA) to satisfy the conditions of approval for the ABCWUA ground water permit RG-960.

Is The Santolina Development Sustainable?

The Santolina Master Plan proposes a watershed problem not only for Acequias of the North and South Valley, but also for the greater Albuquerque area. As population increases and surface water becomes scarce, sub-developments like Santolina pose the question of whether large urban areas of this magnitude outside the established boundaries of the present utility service area would be sustainable. A development like this will not only threaten the cultural, historic and natural tapestry of the Acequias in the valley de Atrisco, but also threaten water availability to the community as a whole

Sonora R. Rodriquez, CESOSS Future Community Leader

Santiago James Maestas, CESOSS Board & Executive Committee Member

Produced for the Spring 2014 “Cultivando Nuestro Futuro” Leadership Institute/Center for Social Sustainable Systems

Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association

*For a copy of the full document, please contact CESOSS at cesoss2004@gmail.com