SW City’s Water Policies Threaten Laundry

Posted January 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

As Santa Fe, NM, officials review water fees for businesses, the owner of Luna Laundry says the cost of water could drive his company out of the city. In 2007, the city changed its rates into a tiered system that charged businesses increasingly higher prices as they used more water, but some businesses got a break the following year, according to news reports. That meant Luna could purchase higher volumes of water at lower tiered rates. City officials told local media that the special rates saved Luna about $23,000 in 2010 for an average use of about 130,000 gallons per month.

Now, however, Luna has expanded. It’s using more than 300,000 gallons per month, and the company would like to purchase a bigger building. Over 10 years, this commercial laundry has grown to serve 200 customers, including hotels that cater to the city’s tourism industry. Owner Scott Ciener says he uses high-quality washing machinery and a recycling system, which lowers water use and supports the local economy. He also employs 47 area residents.

According to city policy, every new business has to get a water budget approved by the city that determines how much water will be used at the location every year. Then, the business must purchase an equivalent amount of water rights from the city or purchase them elsewhere and transfer them to the city at a cost of about $16,000 per acre-foot. The same rules apply to a business that plans to close one location and open in another. Water, the city says, stays with the property, not the user.

Ciener says it’s important for Santa Fe to support jobs and local businesses. Luna Laundry needs up to 500,000 gallons per month, and it will cost $500,000 just to turn water on at another facility. That cost would be much lower if he relocates to nearby Rio Rancho or Pojoaque, so it might be time to move come spring, says Ciener. That is, unless city officials are willing to address the problem. “We are not a big new water user that is coming into Santa Fe and is going to increase the size of the water use,” he says. “We are already using it. We just want to move it.”