City officials: Water issues require multiple solutions

By Sarah Meyer, PNT Staff Writer

The city of Portales has enough water to meet its needs for the foreseeable future, but alternatives need to be considered, officials said in a meeting last week.

Portales city officials discussed the topic in a workshop Tuesday.

“We can meet demand,” Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said. “We’re doing that now without any problem. But we’re going to have to be drilling more wells to meet that demand. The (Ogalalla) aquifer is depleting, and we’re getting less and less water out of every well we drill.”

“With more people drinking out of the same hole, it’s going to deplete the supply,” said city councilor Ron Jackson.

Tom Howell, public works director, said the city’s 40-year water plan calls for pursuing new water, considering alternate sources and conservation.

The city owns 6,000 acres with water rights and leases an adjacent 6,000 acres from the state, also with water rights, known as the Blackwater well field, said Ortega.

The well field is north and east of Portales, parallel to Cacahuate Road, said Howell.

The city currently has 23 wells in the Blackwater well field, seven of which have been added in the last five years, Howell said.

In 2004 the city received $1 million in state legislative funds to convert 17 agricultural wells to municipal use, said Debi Lee, city manager. In 2005, Gov. Bill Richardson took away $200,000.

“We don’t know why,” Lee said. The money was restored in 2006. The city has three wells left to convert, she said.

“As the water level goes down, the amount produced goes down,” said Howell. “We’re going to constantly have to put in more wells.”
In 2007 the city received a $400,000 legislative appropriation to purchase land and water rights, Lee said.

City officials are considering asking the Legislature to reappropriate this money in 2009 for other uses related to water.

The city’s most effective conservation measure is rate increases, Howell said.

“To be honest, the price seems to work the best,” he said. “We’re beginning to see some results from that.”

Water rates are planned to increase at 6 percent each year, with the funds designed to help pay for a new wastewater treatment plant, Lee said.
However, with the need for additional wells and the planned Ute water pipeline, rates will likely go up even more in the future, she said.

Over the past five years, residential users have averaged 165 gallons per day, industry averages 212 gallons per day, Howell said.

He said 80 percent of residential water is used for “auxiliary” purposes — mainly watering yards.

Conservation also is helped by the fact that all new plumbing fixtures are “low flow,” so when older fixtures are replaced, the new fixtures use less water.

Howell said the future water supply from the city’s Blackwater well field will depend on the production of the wells.

To extend the life of the city’s water supply, city officials will consider using treated wastewater in parks. The Ute water pipeline is considered another important future water source. Yet another possibility for a future water supply is desalination.