11/22/07

Current Water System

  With any new water treatment project approved by the Española City Council, the current system of wells will have to undergo renovations in order to meet federal environmental compliance standards.

    The city currently has six wells online which produce about 2.3 million gallons of water per day, according to an engineering report.

    The city's two other wells have been shut down because of contamination. If those wells are blended and are able to be brought back online, the current system would be able to produce 3.8 million gallons of water per day, the report states.

    Under an expanded groundwater-only system, the city would increase the number of wells from eight to 17. Then the city would be able to produce 6.7 million gallons of water per day, the report states. 

    Engineers estimate the city's average demand for water in 2008 would be 1.5 million gallons per day, with peak demands reaching 2.3 million gallons per day.

    With the proposed regional plan, average demand would jump to 3.1 million gallons per day, with a peak demand of 5.01 million gallons per day, the report states.

    City Water Services Director Marvin Martinez said the current system of wells could sustain the city's needs, but not the region's need for water if the two wells are brought online.

    "If we blend wells four and seven and were just serving the city, we would be okay," Martinez said. "But if we start bringing in other cities, the wells wouldn't be able to handle that."

    Mayor Joseph Maestas said no matter which plan is approved, the city's immediate priority is addressing the treatment of the city's current well system.

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency updated the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2004, tightening regulations on the levels of contaminates water could contain, Martinez said.

    The regulations were tightened with regard to levels of arsenic in the city's water supply. City Manager Gus Cordova said the city is expecting federal regulations on uranium will be revised next and are expecting to treat two wells accordingly.

    The city was given an extension until January 2009 to bring its water into compliance with the new standards, Cordova said.

    Cordova said the standards were stringent, but the city was in the process of bringing its water supply into compliance.

    Cordova said the city is planning to construct a treatment facility for one well and a blending facility to bring two wells into compliance. The two projects are estimated to cost $2.3 million, Cordova said.

    The city is submitting an application to the Water Trust Board in hopes of securing funding for the treatment of the wells. A state appropriation of $1 million is being used for the treatment of well one.

    "We should be in compliance in about a year," Cordova said.

    Cordova said he hoped the plan could reach its final design stage by next summer.

    The city's current system of wells pumps water from the aquifer that lies underneath the city. An aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock or materials such as sand, gravel, silt or clay that holds water. It is not like an underground lake, but rather a series of pockets of water.

    Glorieta Geosciences Senior Hydrologist Mustafa Chudnoff said a groundwater-only plan would not deplete Española's aquifer.

    "All of our data indicates there is more than a 100- year supply of water," Chudnoff said. "It's a pretty significant supply."

    Martinez said even though the city's aquifer can sustain the needs of the city, the water drawn from it still needs to be treated.

    "The problem with the water is the contaminants,"  Martinez said. "It's not the quantity; it's the quality."

    As the City Council and city officials set their sights on the future, more immediate needs are still pending.

    Infrastructure repairs are badly needed to replace an aging system of water lines throughout the city.

    Martinez said the city's water system was more than 75 years old in some places.

    During the last weeks of August, the department had to scramble to fix an estimated seven to eight breaks in city water lines. In September, several other lines had to be repaired.

Combination System Plan

By Kevin Huelsmann

SUN Staff Writer

    After spending five months meeting to coordinate studies, the city of Española's engineering team has recommended a water supply system combining a system of groundwater wells and a surface water treatment facility.

    The proposed plan would cost the city an estimated $70.5 million in construction and planning costs for the 40 year project, the report from a team of city-hired engineers states. The plan would include a surface water treatment plant that could cost between $19.7 million and $23.4 million to construct as well as the addition of seven new wells to serve the region.

    The report estimates that the operating costs for the combination system will be $89.7 million over the 40-year period.

    The plans call for the combination system to be built by 2011 if construction was to start in 2009.

    Cost estimates include the assumption that the system would be serving the needs of neighboring communities such as La Puebla, Cuarteles, Santa Cruz and Chimayó in 2009 and the Ohkay Owingeh and Santa Clara pueblos as well as Arroyo Seco in 2020.

    The first addition of regional communities, expected by 2009, would add about 5,820 residents and an average water demand of .5 million gallons per day. Peak demand for those communities is estimated to be .83 million gallons per day, the report states.

    The second addition of regional communities, expected in 2020, would add about 9,234 residents and an average water demand of about 1.2 million gallons per day. The peak demand for those communities is estimated to be 1.85 million gallons per day.

    The combination system is expected to have the ability to handle a peak demand of 8.8 million gallons per day when it is completed in 2048. The treatment facility is expected to pump out about 2 million gallons per day, with wells providing 6.8 million gallons per day.

    After the city's current wells are treated in 2011, engineers estimated the city's wells could handle about 3.8 million gallons per day.

    When hooking up to the city's new system, communities will have to provide water rights to the city as well as assist the city with connection costs.

    Currently the city only has a commitment from Cuatro Villas Mutual Domestic Water Users Association, which includes the communities of Arroyo Seco, La Puebla, Cuarteles and Santa Cruz, which sent a letter to the city Oct. 18 requesting water service of about 88 acre-feet per year.

    In the combination facility plan, the city would first treat five of its current wells in order to bring them into compliance with standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate levels of contaminants in drinking water (see story on current water system).

    "Up through 2010, those are all projects that need to be done to be in compliance with the (Environmental Protection Agency)," Cordova said. "There's no argument of disagreement there."

    Construction on the surface water plant would begin sometime during the same time period. Engineers estimate the plant would be brought online by 2011.

    The plant would draw water from the Rio Grande and filter it through a series of treatment processes before pumping the finished product out to residents across the city. Any solids removed during the process would be pumped to the city's newly expanded wastewater treatment plant and anything leftover would be discharged back into the Rio Grande.

    Camp, Dresser and McKee Senior Engineer Mark Ryan said the need to have a backup groundwater system stems from the fact that waters from the Rio Grande aren't always able to be treated.

    "Sometimes the Rio Grande gets really muddy," Ryan said. "The water isn't usable all of the time. That's why you need a 100 percent backup for the system."

    After the treatment facility is in place, the plan calls for the addition of seven new wells between 2020 and 2048 at a cost of $35.9 million.

    During this entire process, engineers factored in an additional cost of $10.2 million to expand the city's water lines.

    Maestas said the city needs to put to use its San Juan-Chama surface water rights and prepare for future needs that might come about.

    "We want the most realistic system where we minimize an increase in rates and make use of our water rights," Maestas said. "We can't put those rights to use with a groundwater only system. We don't have the contamination in our surface water like we do with our groundwater."

    Glorieta Geosciences Senior Hydrologist Mustafa Chudnoff said the city would not be at risk of losing any of its water rights from the San Juan-Chama Project if they are not fully put to use in either project.

    "Those rights are guaranteed for at least 40 years," Chudnoff said. "There's no danger of forfeiting rights."

    Chudnoff said the city currently has 2,780 acre feet of water able to be diverted from the Rio Grande. Of its total amount, Chudnoff said the city uses an average of 1,200- to 1,300-acre-feet.

    Cordova said the city uses those rights by balancing its use of groundwater drawn from wells against the surface water rights that are not being pulled from the river.

    Ryan said the city would be able to utilize its water rights with either a ground-water only project or the combination proposal.

    "You can bring (water rights) in through either project," Ryan said regarding the city's water rights. "It's pretty much the same for either project. But when regional partners join, they would have to bring their own water rights."

     Ryan said the city would be able to divert up to 2,000 acre-feet of its water rights through its surface water facility and use the remaining 780 acre-feet through its groundwater system, in the combination system scenario.

    Cordova said to build a facility only for the needs of Española could cost more money in the future if it is decided that a regional water facility is needed.

    "To go back and retro fit the system for regional would be more expensive than to do it now," Cordova said.

Changing Plans

    Negotiations to construct the surface water facility have gone through several changes over the course of planning due to problems with finding a location, securing funding and delays in planning.

    The city had originally planned to build the surface water plant on the Prince Carter Ranch and use the Los Vigiles Ditch as a diversion point. The city was forced to consider alternative sites earlier this year when negotiations with Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, which owns the property where the ditch is located, failed to produce an easement agreement.

    Cordova said the breakdown was a result of not being able to negotiate an easement for more than a year by year basis.

    "The Pueblo says it will support an alternative location, because the city would still be able to provide bulk water to the Pueblo in the future from this alternative location," Cordova stated in an March 16 email to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Patricia Phillips.

    The new location being considered by the city is located slightly north of Fairview Lane, just east of the Rio Grande. The city has been negotiating with Española businessman Richard Cook to secure the property, but has not yet reached an agreement.

    But the real challenge in constructing the combination system is securing the necessary funding.

    Currently, the city has secured about $10 million in federal and state funding for the proposed surface water system, according to the engineering report.        

    Another $10.5 million in funding is awaiting action by the respective lending agencies. Proposed funding includes a legislative request of $1.1 million, a grant from the Water Trust Board and a loan application as part of the Clean Water Drinking Program.

    In some cases, funding for the project will need to be reallocated if councilors choose to go with a groundwater-only plan, as some of the money is earmarked for surface water.

    Cordova said a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for $1.8 million, funding from the Water Trust Board for $5.6 million and a federal appropriation for $3 million will all need to be reauthorized if a groundwater-only system is chosen.

    Cordova said it is a long process for the city to fully identify funds for the project.

    "It's going to take several years to identify all the money to build that plant," Cordova said. "We're not one of those wealthy cities that can just pass on the costs to taxpayers."

    The city would contribute $2.5 million from the one-eighths gross receipts tax dedicated to water projects, according to Cordova.

    He said the $2.5 million was budgeted to cover the local match for grants the city has received. Cordova also said the city could issue a bond for $2.5 million if it loses any legislative funds.

    Many of the city's grants for the treatment facility project have local match requirements that make it difficult to expend the grant money. Cordova identified two federal grants that have local matches of 55 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

    "That means we have to expend our match before we begin to draw on their money," Cordova said. "And that takes time."

    Reauthorization of those funds would require lobbying the respective organizations to change the funding language, Cordova said.

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