Santa Fe, New Mexico is currently facing a water shortage. For 50 years, rainfall in New Mexico was abnormally high, but in the past few years levels have decreased significantly. Current precipitation in Santa Fe averages only 14 inches per year. Scientists first thought the rainwater shortage was a drought, but they now believe it is a change in climate. With population growth on the upswing, water resources are stretched to the limit, and water use restrictions have become a way of life in New Mexico.
More than just a popular topic of discussion, the water shortage has also become a major political issue in New Mexico. During his annual State of the State speech, New Mexico’s Governor, Bill Richardson, pronounced, “Water still remains the key to our future – and committing the resources to use it more wisely, stretch it farther and conserve it better is a critical priority.” He also proposed a $30-million Water Innovation Fund to encourage creative approaches to water delivery, conservation and reuse projects within New Mexico.
In 2002 Partners in Education, a non-profit organization, approached the Santa Fe school system with a plan to build a playground for the newly rebuilt Salizar Elementary School. No funds were available through city resources, so the Norma Green Family Foundation became involved. The foundation provided $100,000 in funding to propel the project forward, and originated the idea to install a water-harvesting system as part of the playground construction. The idea was quickly approved and water conservation became part of the plan. Partners in Education acted as a facilitator for the project. Landscape architect Richard Jennings of Earthwrights Designs, worked with Laban Wingert, a park designer, to develop the final plan. Jennings has designed over 30 water harvesting systems.
The water-harvesting system is the first of its kind in the state. Stormwater runoff is collected and then distributed through a drip irrigation system for the property’s landscaping. The total system can retain up to 80,000 gallons of water. Because typical urban runoff contains pollutants such as contaminated sediment, trash, oil and grease, it was important to include a stormwater treatment method into the system’s design.
Jennings researched several stormwater treatment systems before he chose the Vortechs system for this project. Design and adaptability of the Vortechs System, along with the responsiveness of the staff were deciding factors for Jennings. “Contech Construction Products Inc. was outstanding in their responsiveness and attention to detail,” stated Jennings. “They were able to deliver the Vortechs on time while working within a short time frame.”
Due to the gradual grade of the site, runoff naturally drains to the Vortechs model 2000, where contaminated sediment, floating hydrocarbons, and debris are removed. The system’s patented swirl chamber and flow controls work together to eliminate turbulence and provide positive removal efficiencies throughout the full range of operation. The unique design of the system allows for single, unobstructed access to the stored pollutants, so a maintenance crew can easily clean it out.
The Vortechs was installed as phase one of the three phase project. During the second phase, two underground retention tanks, which serves as an on-site reservoir, were installed. Landscaping will be installed during the final phase of the project. The completed water-harvesting system will reduce the amount of water drawn from existing waterways for irrigation, making it available for other uses.
Partners in Education plans to purchase the lot next to the school, with help from the governor’s Water Innovation Fund, for a community park to provide local artists with an outside venue for their artwork. The water to sustain the park will come from the water-harvesting system at the school.
Those involved in the project hope that the Salizar School will serve as a model for others. In fact, Ingram aspires to expand this innovative program throughout the state as a viable method of water conservation.