City officials take aim at water conservation

By Tony Parra

Portales Public Works Director Tom Howell said a water conserving initiative will be in place beginning in February for Portales.
Howell made his first announcement of the initiative at Tuesday’s city council meeting and elaborated on it on Wednesday. He said the plan is to begin publicizing water conservation methods and tips in late February. According to Howell, the reason for February is to publicize the water conservation tips a few weeks before the growing season.
“We’re trying to create an official water policy,” Howell said. “We want to do some public relations in late February and advertise tips on not wasting water.”
Howell said the water pumps have the ability to pump 6.6 million gallons of water a day and any time the demand is greater than the 6.6 million gallons, water comes out of the storage tanks.
Howell said that when water dips below 16 feet in depth, the water department uses that as a cue to begin implementing water conservation methods. He said the water levels dipped below 16 feet in June to 11 feet.
Each foot of water equates to approximately 400,000 gallons of water, according to Howell.
“We had not instituted one of the water conservation steps,” Howell said. “We contacted the university and Portales schools about scaling back on water use.(We asked) to have them water on three days out of the week and we were able to get back to the mark after one week.”
Howell said there are steps the water department takes once water levels fall under the 16-foot mark. The first step is to contact some of the biggest water users, such as Eastern New Mexico University, Portales public schools and city parks and try to get them to cut back on their water use. He said the second step would be to contact citizens with heavy water use to see if they will voluntarily cut back.
Howell said the third step would be to do something the city of Clovis did this year. He said city of Clovis officials asked Clovis citizens to water their gardens on different days. For instance, Clovis city officials set voluntary guidelines in mid-June. One of the voluntary watering restrictions is no yard watering from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and a watering schedule for odd and even addresses. The restrictions would mean that odd-numbered residencies will water on one day and the next day even-numbered residencies will water, according to a July 8 Clovis News-Journal article.
He said in an extreme case the restrictions on watering yards would not be voluntary and anyone caught violating the water restrictions would have their water cut off.
Howell said the watering schedule saved eight million gallons of water a day for the city of Clovis.
“We don’t anticipate these problems,” Howell said. “But the best time to develop a plan is now, when we don’t have a problem.”
He said the water levels as of Wednesday were at 30 feet. He said the July rainfall has helped keep the water levels high.
“It’s the first year I’ve seen it rain this much in a long time,” Jake Lopez, city council member, said. “It’s been dry for the last 7 or 8 years. The rain has helped. Many people are not having to water their yards.”
The cost for a Clovis family using 20,000 gallons of water in one month is $65.87 and when a Portales family uses 20,000 gallons of water in a month the cost is $30.83, according to a July 25 article.
“We have people who complain about the high water bills, but they don’t take advantage of our water audit services,” Howell said in Tuesday’s city council meeting. “We can look at their sprinkler systems, toilets and showers to see how much water they use.”
Howell said the objective of the water audit services 5 to 10 percent of the city’s 4,500 water customers, which amounts to between 225 to 450 customers. He said so far they have only had 17 customers request the service this year.
“We need to do a conservation plan even if the water levels are high or low,” Lopez said. “We need to have everyone on the same page, dairies, farmers and people in the county. I’m very worried about it (running out of water) and I have people tell me they are worried about it.”