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Farmer Marcia Fernandez speaks while acequia leader Santiago Maestas listens. Photo: AFSC New Mexico / AFSC

The AFSC New Mexico program is part of a grassroots community coalition which has successfully worked for eight years to prevent a massive development project which would create unsustainable sprawl and drain our most precious resource: water. The developers, backed by Barclay’s Bank of London, ironically named the proposed development “Santolina,” which is an invasive weed.

It is a massive housing development that would cover more than 13,700 acres south of Albuquerque on the communal lands of the Atrisco land grant, which is zoned for agricultural use. (How Barclay’s of London and the Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC obtained title of the grazing lands of this traditional agricultural community is subject for another article.)

What is more pressing is if they are successful and build houses for approximately 95,000 people on the agricultural lands, that community would be the second largest city in the state. At build-out, it is estimated that Santolina would demand over 14 million gallons of water per day.

This is water that is not available, and water that could only come from the traditional communities. If Santolina is built, it would mean the death of those communities. Water is a major concern, especially in a region that continues to experience long-term drought, coupled with climate change.

“El Agua es la Vida” -- a common phrase in New Mexico meaning “Water is Life” -- is literally true. Without water, nothing lives in New Mexico. So developers constantly try to find ways to get a hold of this very limited resource.

The Contra Santolina coalition (Spanglish for “Against Santolina”) has used every organizing tool to prevent the sprawl, including pressuring local elected officials with massive turnout at public meetings; banner drops; a tractor brigade led by farmers down the main street in Albuquerque; media interviews, letters to the editor and op-eds; letters of opposition from local tribes, the Albuquerque school board, local neighborhood associations; and much more.

AFSC New Mexico staff (from left): Angelina Lopez-Brody, Sayrah Namaste and Patrick Jaramillo.

In July 2021, AFSC led an educational event outdoors at a city park with free paletas (popsicles), provided updates on the campaign, and passed out bilingual yard signs stating, “Another Family Against Santolina / Otra Familia Contra Santolina.” AFSC NM Co-director Sayrah Namaste also worked with local media to make sure that the voices of opposition from the farmers and acequia (traditional water way) users were amplified.

The prevalent model of “economic development” in New Mexico--short-term financial gain for the few at the cost of sustainable traditional communities--has been a problem for a long time. But New Mexico has an extensive history of resistance, and AFSC will continue to accompany land-based people in this fight.

If you are interested in following the work of the coalition, the Contra Santolina shares regular updates at