City breaks down water crisis at council meeting

By Tony Parra

The talk on Tuesday evening during the Portales City Council meeting was remaining concerns of the lack of water valves and a way of allowing water to flow without having to shut water down to the entire city of Portales.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega and city councilors talked about what concerns arose from a 17-foot crack on a 24-inch water pipe which caused the city of Portales to go without water for almost 24 hours over the weekend.

City officials said a 24-inch major distribution line broke on the west side of Portales just after midnight on Saturday and water began to burst out of the ground near Taco Box between University and Avenue K on West First Street. The workers were able to restore water late evening on Saturday night.

“As bad as it was, it was a wake-up call as to how important water is and to pay attention to our future,” Mike Miller, city councilor, said. Miller said he’s heard good things about the work city employees and water co-op members did to restore the water. “You guys did an exceptional job. It was a terrible inconvenience (for Portales citizens).”

Tom Howell, public works director, said there was a 17-foot crack at the bottom of the 24-inch line. Howell said one possible reason for the crack is that the 24-inch PVC pipe, a 1992 project, was built on caliche, a hard bottom and it was bedded with sand. Howell said the pipe can move, grind on rocks and cause the crack. Therefore, the bedding with sand would not have been enough to prevent it from cracking.

Howell said a new 24-inch wide, 19-foot long cast iron pipe portion was used to repair the crack. Howell said the unfortunate part was that it is a main pipe coming in to Portales and every foot holds 22 gallons of water.

“There are not many valves,” Howell said. “The thinking, may have been, when laying the pipes down is that the adding of valves adds to the cost.”

Debi Lee, city manager, said water department and city officials will be having a meeting on Friday to discuss the lack of water valves and trying to determine a way of shutting a valve to cut water off to portions of Portales without doing it to the entire city.

“The big issue is that it is expensive,” Howell said. “We need to look at areas and phase in valves.”

Howell said there are ways an insert valve can be put in without disturbing the flow of water. Howell said there is a butterfly valve near the Town and Country store on North Chicago as water lines enter the city. He said it wouldn’t shut the water off so water employees had to shut the water off at the water tanks, east of Portales off of U.S. 70.

“We need to look at the valves we are putting in,” Howell said.

Lee said the water outage hurt production for industries at the industrial park. Lee said DairiConcepts workers use 500,000 gallons of water a day while Abengoa Bioenergy employees use 250,000 gallons of water a day.

The break flooded streets with about 5 million gallons of water before the flow was stemmed, officials said.

Lee said city workers received some criticism because of not having the adequate 24-inch pipe in Portales. Howell said calls were made to Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, Albuquerque and Roswell.

Lee said even if they would have had the 24-inch pipe portion in Portales, workers would still have had to wait while the water was being pumped out. Lee said Roosevelt County Water Co-op workers drove to Roswell to get the pipe while city workers pumped out the water.