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John Reitman

By John Reitman

A Santa Fe, NM golf course and the city battle over water rights

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Santa Fe Country Club and Golf Association and the city have had a unique water rights agreement in place since 1959. Santa Fe CC photo

Water-use issues and how they affect golf courses in locations like California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado have been making news for years. Issues affected golf courses in New Mexico might not grab headlines like those in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Los Angeles, but challenges associated with water and access to it are just as real.

Take Santa Fe Country Club and Golf Association for example and its struggle to maintain its unique water rights agreement that has been in place since the Eisenhower Administration.

The City of Santa Fe gives the club access to reclaimed water to irrigate the golf course as long as the club grants access to the course to nonmember residents of the city. The deal struck in 1959 states the city would give the golf course access to water as long as the property is maintained as a golf course. Now, the city, which also operates its own golf course, wants out of the deal, saying the water is worth much more than the value of reduced greens fees for nonmember city residents. 

The city has been trying to renegotiate the agreement with the golf course for 25 years and last July filed a 26-page complaint indicating it now seeks a deal that would comply with an effluent management ordinance that limits such deals to four-year terms and prices water at market value.

The club responded in August with a 44-page counterclaim that says it intends to hold to the deal both sides agreed to 64 years ago. The dispute is set to be settled in court sometime this year.

The club's attorney says the city is trying to recoup some of the $1 million or so it loses each year in managing municipal Marty Sanchez Links. According to the website for each property, weekend green fees range from $46 at Marty Sanchez to $62 at Santa Fe.

The club is located on land once owned by the Catron family, which played a key role in development of the city in the early 20th century. In the 1930s, the family conveyed land to the city for use as a golf course. After 10 years, the city leased the property to the Santa Fe Golf Association in 1949 and eventually gave the property back to the Catron family 10 years after that. The family conveyed the property to the golf association in 1959, at which time it entered into the current water deal with the city.

Through the years, the Santa Fe Golf Association says it has made significant investments to deliver water to the golf course, including constructing a pipeline to a wastewater treatment plant and other upgrades to pump houses and modern irrigation systems on the golf course. The club's attorney also claims that disruptions to service that have limited or cut off water on occasion have forced the club either to close or buy potable water from the city to remain open.

The city contests such claims and has filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the club's counterclaims, which would threaten the financial viability of SFCC as a golf course. A pre-trial conference is set for March.

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