The San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project was completed in 2008. It stopped Albuquerque’s sole reliance on its overtaxed aquifer by tapping into surface water transported from the Colorado River basin.
The water, rights to which have been purchased in perpetuity, is part of New Mexico’s allotment of Colorado River water, which has been apportioned among Western states. It is not native Rio Grande water.
Officials first proposed use of the water for drinking after scientific studies in the early 1990s showed that Albuquerque’s aquifer – once thought to be virtually limitless – was smaller than originally believed. The Albuquerque water aquifer was being pumped twice as fast as nature could replenish it. Switching to surface water would be no easy task.
It took more than $400 million in new infrastructure to divert the water from the Rio Grande, treat the water to safe drinking water standards, and deliver it to customers. The project was financed with seven dedicated rate increases over several years.
Among other things, those rate increases paid for:
- 38 miles of distribution pipeline (some of it underneath the Rio Grande itself).
- An adjustable diversion dam and intake structure on the Rio Grande.
- Funding of programs to preserve the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow and its habitat, and inclusion of fish screens and passages at the diversion site to minimize Project impacts on fish populations.
- Raw Water Pump Station on the Rio Grande – It was built to resemble a Spanish mission church the better to blend in with its surroundings.
- Eight miles of raw water pipeline to transport water from the Raw Water Pump Station.
- A $160 million Water Treatment Plant. The plant, with a capacity of about 80 million gallons per day, uses a series of chemical and mechanical processes to remove sediment and other contaminants from the water. It employs the same treatment process now in use by such communities as Fresno, California and Tampa, Florida.
Ratepayer dollars also were used to fund an ongoing conservation program. Permit requirements for the San Juan Chama Drinking Water Project called for an eventual reduction in Albuquerque’s per capita water usage to 155 gallons per day. That goal has already been met and surpassed.
Project construction, which began in 2004, was completed in 2008. Pipeline construction wrapped up in April of 2008, and the Water Treatment Plant was finished in November of 2008.