Bad effluent shuts Santa Fe golf courses; drinking water now used for irrigation

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe City Council during a special meeting on Monday approved a plan that could cost up to $110,000 to irrigate golf courses, a park and other recreational facilities with drinking water after treated wastewater typically used on the sites was discovered to be unusable.

Up to 18 million gallons of potable water will be provided for watering at the city’s SWAN park, the soccer, softball and rugby fields at the Municipal Recreation Complex — which includes the city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe — and the privately-owned Santa Fe Country Club.

The MRC, including the golf course, SWAN park and the private country club, which has a contract with the city to provide it with wastewater effluent, have been closed since last week and may not be open before the Fourth of July weekend.

The council and Mayor Alan Webber voted 7-0 (with councilors Peter Ives and Renee Villarreal absent) to approve the allocation of water worth between $60,000 and $110,000 after it was discovered last month that phosphorus levels, including contaminants like E. coli, in treated effluent leaving the city’s wastewater treatment plant exceeded state limits.

Public Utilities Department Director Shannon Jones said he couldn’t be certain what caused the “upset” at the city’s wastewater treatment plant that put levels to get out of balance. While the city is working on the problem and nutrient levels are trending back toward acceptable levels, he said it could take as long as week to for the plant to get back into compliance with what is allowed under the city’s discharge permit.

He said the problem seems to have occurred between June 19 and June 22. Water from hydrants has been diverted to alleviate the problem, but as of Monday the recreational properties are only getting about 20% of the amount of their normal irrigation amounts.

Meanwhile, the city is losing roughly $7,000 per day in lost revenue at the closed Marty Sanchez golf course.

Without the use of potable water until the wastewater system is fully back online, damage to the 30 greens at the golf course — each green valued at approximately $50,000 — could cost the city $1.5 million.

City councilors and Webber had a lot of questions for Jones and the MRC and Marty Sanchez staff about what may have caused the problem and what is being done to correct it.

“It can’t continue to happen and we need to know why it happened,” City Councilor Signe Lindell said, adding that the city’s golf course is a “multi-million dollar asset.”

Jones said the city has experienced this problem before, but not to this extent. He said the city has developed a plan to get the wastewater plant back online.

“The only thing lacking is time,” he said.

Mayor Webber praised the Wastewater Management Division, the Parks and Recreation Department and the city’s fire department for taking steps to provide the parks and golf courses with what water they can.

Santa Fe Country Club and the Downs at Santa Fe, which is owned by Pojoaque Pueblo, both have contracts with the city to supply them with water. Jones said the Downs has not received any of its allocation of water from the city since June 22.

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